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Quality Time

Reviewing the quality soul picks from recent CD albums

Check the latest chart positions

It's been a while since we've had our Quality Time column, but now we have so many truly recommendable tunes currently on our Cream Cuts Top 20 chart at the moment that it's a pleasure to introduce them to our readers:

COOL MILLION Making Love / Sweet Baby etc.
From German SedSoul CD Back for More

Cool Million's sophomore set was already our album of the month last April, and individual tracks seem to find their way one after another onto the Quality Time Cream Cuts as well. The first of them was the punchy groover Sweet Baby, which proves that Meli'sa Morgan is still vocally in terrific form. Musically, the track sounds like it could have been taken from Meli'sa's debut solo album released in 1986. Other 80s soul heroes who guest on the album include Eugene Wilde, Dee Dee Wilde, Al Broomfield, Leroy Burgess, Rena Scott and Peggi Blu, but the CD also introduces new voices like the lovely Australian soprano Jeniqua who sings lead on Making Love, the most arresting tune on the whole album.

FREDA PAYNE Welcome to the Human Race
From UK Expansion compilation CD/OST City Teacher

Expansion released the original soundtrack from the film City Teacher, which I haven't seen, but the soundtrack contained some worthwhile music, featuring veteran soul stars like Freda Payne, Lenny Williams and David Lasley, as well as younger generation heroes like Johnny Britt from Impromp2. Preston Glass produced this amazingly fresh and crispy upbeat mover Welcome to the Human Race - boasting a gorgeous bass groove and stylish flute and keyboard playing. Freda Payne is also in fine form, although it is 28 years since her previous chart hit!

TIM BOWMAN All I Need Is You
From US Trippin Records CD Delicious Grooves

These two gorgeous jazzy soul tunes are from Trippin Records compilation Delicious Grooves, which contains mainly smooth jazz released on the Trippin Records label during the last couple of years. I have to admit I'm no longer a great fan of smooth jazz, especially not of the contemporary variety, which often means a saxophonist or some other instrumentalist playing melodic tunes over programmed keyboard and drum backings. Both the funk and jazz have disappeared from the music we used to call jazz-funk in the 70s and 80s, "smooth" is surely a proper title, but "jazz" it certainly isn't.
However, smooth jazz albums still contain excellent jazzy soul vocal tunes every now and then, and these two tracks are prime examples of this. Tim Bowman is a smooth jazz guitarist who lays the delicate background with his elegant playing to this track, which is sung by Tim's son, Tim Bowman Jr.. The overall style reminds me of Tony Toni Toné best performances, and the beautiful song is written by sax player Randy Scott.
Still, even better is another smooth jazz pick from the same compilation; British sax player James Vargas has hired the London based singer Yvonne John-Lewis to guest on the sublime ballad Say You Will. Again, the melody is pure Quality Time from the very first second, and Yvonne's delivery is absolutely blissful. I'm sure we'll be hearing from this new talent in years to come.

From US PRVCY Premium CD United We Cure

United We Cure is another compilation comprising of mainly smooth jazz material by such favourite artists of the genre as Brian Culbertson, Norman Brown, Wayman Tisdale and Euge Groove, but the CD also contains vocal tunes sung by Will Downing, Kindred, Lalah Hathaway & Rahsaan Patterson and Hil St. Soul.
Two tracks from the album certainly deserve a place in our esteemed quality soul column as well. Will Downing is naturally a self-evident pick, especially when the track featured on the compilation, Fly Higher represents the classiest, most jazz-inclined material by Will, and he really is in his element with this mellow, summery mid-tempo song. The track is produced by his long-time partner Rex Rideout. Gary Taylor is one of the three writers of the tune (together with Will himself and Rex), and the track also features a short jazz guitar break by Michael Ripoli who sounds like he is influenced by David T. Walker.
Still, the Kindred contribution on the compilation, Everything I Need is by far the most soulful cut on the album. Fatin Dantzler has a wonderful, extremely gritty vocal style, and he delivers a throaty, soulful-in-the-extreme performance here. The female part of this husband-and-wife duo, Aja Graydon softens the overall feel but is a good soul singer, too. Real horns and organ colour the atmospheric neo-soul backing. A real killer of a song, and hopefully gets more exposure than on this rare charity CD.
Read the CD review of the whole album as our album of the month pick in July.

THE TEMPTATIONS Let Me Catch Your Diamonds
From US Universal CD Still Here
ALI OLLIE WOODSON Girl Don't Walk Away
From US Uni-Global Records download album Love at the Same Time
TOUR DE 4FORCE f. ALI OLLIE WOODSON Heaven Bound, Four Walls
From US Ocean Wave Music CD Quiet Moon

Johnny Britt of Impromp2 fame is the ideal producer for the Temptations today, since Johnny knows how to combine the best of the new and the old in soul music, as Impromp2 has demonstrated on their superb own albums. It was no wonder Britt was responsible for the classiest tracks on the Temptations latest CD Still Here, which was our album of the month in June. Let Me Catch Your Diamonds is a captivating mid-tempo song soulfully sung by the group's latest baritone lead singer Bruce Williamson, who follows in the footsteps of Dennis Edwards. After two all-cover sets in a row, it's nice to hear The Temptations are "still here", performing brand new songs!

My all-time favourite soul (and Temptations) vocalist, Ali Ollie Woodson sadly passed away on May 30, 2010 after battling leukemia for nearly eighteen months. The positive thing is that it seems many unreleased Ali Ollie Woodson tunes are finally made available, but unfortunately most of them only as digital downloads. Girl Don't Walk Away comes from the download album Love at the Same Time, which is available internationally on CD Baby. The track demonstrates Ali Ollie at his very best, showcasing all his trademark phrasing that made him so distinguishable. Ali Ollie was one of the rare singers that could make even a mediocre tune a classic, but Girl Don't Walk Away is also a classy soul song in a traditional Temptation tradition. Hopefully this gets a release on CD as well!

More Ali Ollie can be heard on the Tour de 4Force album Quiet Moon (released on Ocean Wave Music, 2009), which is luckily also available in CD format. The Tour de 4Force line-up features former Supremes singer Scherrie Payne and former Emotions vocalist Theresa Davis, and Ali Ollie is featured on two tracks, Heaven Bound and Four Walls. Heaven Bound is a modern uptempo version of an old Rufus song on which we can hear Ali Ollie even scatting a bit. Not comparable to his best Temptations uptempo tunes, but worthwhile listening nevertheless. Four Walls is a Jim Gilstrap (who is also part of the Tour de 4Force line-up) -written midtempo-ballad (a duet with Scherrie Payne) that is set in an almost too modern programmed backdrop, but Ali Ollie again shines with his inimitable vocal delivery. Some very interesting tracks amongst the rest of the album tracks, too.

From US Jive CD The Love & War Masterpeace
D'ANGELO Heaven Must Be Like This
From UK Think Differently compilation CD Remakes

During the previous decade (2000-2009), female artists were leading the neo-soul genre, whereas male artists almost disappeared from the genre. Raheem DeVaughn was one of the very few male artists who were able to create interesting neo-soul, and his third major label album The Love & War Masterpeace contains several tracks that demonstrate that Raheem is still one of the most respectable artists in the neo-soul genre. Raheem's influences clearly come from the early 70s, since his music echoes the work of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, William DeVaughn (not related), and although he also flirts heavily with hip-hop to gain the necessary street credibility for today's R&B charts, Raheem is able to create songs that attract also long-time soul devotees. Fragile is certainly such a tune, an early 70s type of soul ballad with real strings and very impressive falsetto vocals. Much attention has been paid to Raheem's socially conscious lyrics, but classy soul music can be done as well from love and sex as from more serious lyrical messages, as Marvin Gaye perfectly demonstrated.

D'Angelo was one of the artists who started the whole neo-soul movement, but he rapidly disappeared from the scene and hasn't released any new material in ten years. D'Angelo's Remakes CD has been marketed as though it were a new recording, but the fact is that it's virtually a compilation of material that has been mostly available before. Anyway, D'Angelo's reading of the old Ohio Players tune Heaven Must Be Like This (taken from the soundtrack Down in the Delta) is a delicous remake with real musicians, and demonstrate what D'Angelo was able to perform at this best. However, the soundtrack was released already in 1998, and it remains to be seen if D'Angelo can really make a comeback after a ten-year silence.

From UK Dome CD Transatlantic R.P.M.

On their latest album, Incognito celebrates Chaka Khan, Leon Ware and Mario Biondi as their guest vocalists. I was especially pleased to see Italian club jazz singer Mario Biondi getting more exposure as the duettist with Chaka on Lowdown, which is a strong remake of the old Boz Scaggs song. I have always loved the song, and this is really a respectable version of the song, with a bouncy bass line, memorable flute riff and real horns. There have been some contradictory opinions on the Net regarding Mario Biondi and his singing talents, but I certainly like his rough Lou Rawls meets Barry White -type of vocals. Chaka is also in great form on this wonderful, groovy uptempo tune. Essential!

From US Midlife CD Lady

Lynn Fiddmont is a soul singer who was the female vocalist on Linsey's 1991 CD Perfect Love, and released her solo debut in 2006. Lynn's second solo set, entitled Lady, is a tribute to Billie Holiday, and although an all-covers set of Billie Holiday material may not sound very innovative as an idea, this CD is a highly enjoyable set with soul and bossa-nova-inclined readings of Billie Holiday classics. Lynn is not a newcomer as a Billie Holiday interpreter; she has earlier played Billie Holiday in a Los Angeles musical, “Dark Legends in Blood”, and comments that "this CD is not an attempt to copy Billie Holiday. It is however an attempt to introduce a new Day and bridge the gap between the past and the future and usher Miss Billie Holiday into the 21st century."

With the aid of an all-star soul-jazz musician line-up comprising of Gerald Albright, George Duke, Victor Bailey, Kirk Whalum and Christian McBride, Lynn really makes an impressive sophomore set, and the opening track of the CD, the Jimmy Van Heusen / Sammy Chan composition All the Way certainly demonstrate that no soul-jazz lover should live without this album!


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