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The Lowdown - CD reviews

All reviews written by Barry Towler unless otherwise stated
Reviewed on this page:
Various - Soul Japan Presents Family Snapshots Vol. 1
Isley Jasper Isley: Caravan Of Love: The Best Of Isley Jasper Isley
Kalvin Bishop: Do What I Gotta Do
Amp Fiddler: Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly
Scott Smith: Face To Face
Deborah Bond: Day After
Jeffrey Osborne: Music Is Life
Ben Tankard: Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me
Midnight Star: 15th Avenue
Marlon Saunders: Enter My Mind
Carol Duboc: Duboc
Chris Jasper: The Best Of Chris Jasper
Chad Borja: Show Me the Way
Larry Gold: Presents Don Cello and Friends
Will Wheaton - Consenting Adults
Jarrard Anthony: Don't Sleep - Just Dream
Asaph Womack: My Love My Life
Chuck Mills - Thank You
Gerald McClendon - Choose Love
Unified Tribe - Mixed Messages
Frank McComb - The Truth
Skip Martin - From The Heart
Luther Vandross - Dance With My Father
Miles Jaye - Humanity
Tashan - Life Goez On
Johnson & Branson - Packed & Waitin
Ray, Goodman & Brown - Intimate Moments

Archives of 2002-2003 Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Soul Japan Presents Family Snapshots Vol. 1 (JAP Soul Japan)

Salu - R.C. / Positivity - THE DCX / It's Time For Love - HOWARD JOHNSON / I Think About You - REGIS BRANSON / Spend The Night - PORTRAIT / Caught Up - KED / Let's Just Give It Some Time - KHRIS KELLOW / I Just Wanna Satisfy - THE DCX / Girl I Need Your Love - KHRIS KELLOW / Take Away The Pain - HOWARD JOHNSON / Right Here Right Now - KED / My Lady - ED JOHNSON / I'm Sorry - REGIS BRANSON / All Or Nothing - R.C.

From the label that brought us the AWESOME Johnson & Branson set and the Joye B. Moore album comes this tasty sampler of quality modern soul and contemporary R&B grooves. Soul Japan is a label to definitely keep an eye on as they have the best interests of our music at heart and have thus far more than delivered the goods with just three releases.
The first three tracks are more for younger ears, but after repeated plays these do warm on the ears, especially Howard Johnson's "It's Time For Love" which is a stripped down, minimalist modern R&B groove but with more depth and immeasurably better vocals than his younger rivals. Howard sounds just great and proves yet again what a great talent he is. The man who gave us "Keeping Love New" is keeping his appeal new and I look forward to his forthcoming CD later this year.
Another album I EAGERLY await is that from Regis Branson. Here is another man who cannot do much wrong in my book: a fine writer, composer and a GREAT singer. He has two songs here and both are ESSENTIAL. "I Think About You" is a midtempo groove not dissimilar from his material with labelmate Howard from early last year. Unmissable soul for 2004.
A group that delivered us some great soul in the 1990s is Portrait, and they have a song featured here. I am not sure which two members are left here as the liner notes do not say, but this tune is good, but I can do without the turntable scratching myself. Let's wait for the album as I am sure there will be gems contained thereon.
Ked is a new name to me, but this song is great, and one to be turned up in the car, even though it sounds too much like Michael Jackson's bassline on "I Can't Help It" for its own good. Great stuff nonetheless, and a fresh new name.
There is a chap here called Khris Kellow who is a name from the past. Khris was part of Randy & The Gypsys who delivered us the excellent ballad "The Love We Almost Had" on their 1989 A&M album. Here he is, back in 2004 offering two blinding songs rooted in the early 1980s soul tradition; a quality independent twist and a song that will win a lot of hearts.
If you want to know which song is the KILLER then prey hit button 8 on your remote...youngster The DCX drops some SERIOUS quality soul and then some for "I Just Wanna Satisfy"...opening in a George Howard sax groove, this song has everything I love about our music: it is sensual, memorable and an instant winner. The choral hook is spot on and this is a song that my wife immediately picked up on - and just proves what commendable taste she has too! Just gorgeous and worth paying the full price for alone. QUALITY.
More quality next from Khris Kellow with another firing ballad that exemplifies his super-soulful vocal talents. I cannot wait for an album from this gentleman. What a year 2004 should turn out to be! Ed Johnson is yet another rookie who must be watched out for. This tune comes straight from the Rahsaan Patterson / Glenn Lewis mould and is a smashing contemporary inclusion.
How about another KILLER? Check out the Latinesque "I'm Sorry" by Regis Branson; a gentle bossa nova beat with ultra-soulful sentiments. What an awesome talent this gentleman is.
Please, Please Soul Japan - more from these artists and very soon! Another essential CD for 2004.

ISLEY JASPER ISLEY - Caravan Of Love: The Best Of Isley Jasper Isley (US Epic / Legacy, 2003)

Caravan Of Love - Insatiable Woman - I Can Hardly Wait - Liberation - If You Believe In Love - Blue Rose - Do It Right - Givin' You Back The Love - A Once In A Lifetime Lady - Brother To Brother - I Wanna Be Yours - 8th Wonder Of The World - Serve You Right - Look The Other Way - Kiss And Tell - I Can't Get Over Losin' You
I briefly alluded to this excellent compilation during my conversation with the legendary Chris Jasper, and stated that along with his superb "With Love" set on his own Gold City label, this effort from Epic / Legacy was well worthwhile. Well, I have finally got around to writing about it!
Better late than never, though, and I always believe that when timeless, quality music is concerned, such musings need not be rushed. This CD will sound as fresh in 20 years as it did 20 years ago and released in the US on a budget price no-one need dip out on what I belive to be the very best songs from this group's 3-album deal with Epic between 1984 and 1987.
ALL my personal favourites are contained on this 16-track gem from all three albums. "Caravan Of Love" and "Different Drummer" were released on CD, but "Broadway's Closer To Sunset Boulevard" wasn't - which led me to buy this as my two favourites, "Serve You Right" and "I Can't Get Over Losing You" are included in full re-mastered glory. This compilation has been pieced together by Legacy main-stay Leo Sacks and Marvin Isley and features the CLASSIC sounds that we associate with Chris Jasper such as "Insatiable Woman", "Givin' You Back The Love" and "Once In A Lifetime Lady" and funky, uptempo rocky numbers such as "Do It Right" which highlight's Ernie Isley's unique guitar playing. Some in the soul world find Ernie's playing too far out of their comfort zone but personally, I think it is magnificent. This man has to rate as one of the greatest guitar players in the world, and his absence from all but 30 seconds of the "Body Kiss" album was staggering to say the least.
That aside, the magic that these three men produced during their tenure together is plain to hear from this compilation and hearing "Giving You Back The Love" sends me instantly back to the lovely, warm summer of 1987 and the other quality tracks around at that time that were favourites - The Isley's "Smooth Sailin'", Atlantic Starr's "Don't Take Me For Granted" and James Robinson's "Can We Do It Again" all spring to mind. This CD encompases a unique sound that engenders warm, happy feelings for me and to know that Chris Jasper is still out there making great, great music true to this tradition is simply sublime. The man has two albums in the offing, but until then why not pick up this remarkable CD and do exactly as Leo Sacks says... Join the caravan!

KALVIN BISHOP - Do What I Gotta Do (US Mokeh Records, 2003)

Tell Me It's Alright - Do What I Gotta Do - I've Been Workin' Hard All Day - Can I Be Your Lover - Over And Over Again - The Perfect Moment - I Got What You Want - Do What I Gotta Do (reprise) - I'll Show You How - You Say - Party Tonight - You And I

If the quality of 2004 is anything like 2003 then we are in for another bumper year. Our first new review of 2004 starts us off in the right direction and heralds not only the introduction of this great new vocalist, but heralds the return to the production scene of Keni Burke. Keni's strong style and presence is well and truly stamped on this CD and Keni is unmistakable as the backing vocalist on a number of songs.
The album is one of quality and distinction and will be welcomed with delight by 'Lowdown' readers of all ages. The style is mainly mid to down-tempo with a late 80s essence that suits me just fine. Kalvin's quivery vocals are mindful of 90s Capitol artist Jesse Campbell, eminently soulful and still tastefully 'today'. There are echoes of a lot of recent songs on this CD, and although the songs are original I can hear vague echoes of bygone lyrics. This is not a detriment at all - this is one extremely soulful and essential CD. Opening with a distinct 80s Midnight Star "Curious" vibe is "Tell Me It's Alright" which has a delightful hand-clap rhythm, with a choral segment that has been based on Guy's 1988 quality embryonic swingbeat song, "I Like".
Following this is a KILLER ballad; I have played this song to death and it is absolutely sublime. Its haunting, atmospheric synth-based backdrop is overlaid with a tasteful acoustic guitar and slow beat. Opening with similar lyrics to K-Ci & Jo Jo' "Last Night's Letter" the song saunters along at a most sexy and sensual pace - simply superb. There is also a reprise of this song later on which is equally as compulsive, so that's a bonus. Keni's genius and Kalvin's sweet vocals are gorgeous on the gentle "I've Been Workin' Hard All Day", and I especially like the flute-like synth that Keni plays on this; so simple and basic yet adds so much flavour to an already tasty record. Add to this Keni's unmistakable vocals in the background and the resulting brew is simply soulful heaven!
"Can I Be Your Lover" is a track to skip - aimed at the current youthful RnB trend and not really a song that would appeal to readers of these pages. However this cannot be said of the next song which is a very pleasant midtempo outing featuring Keni on backing vocals. "The Perfect Moment" is sheer class and is very much like the ballads such as "Tell Me You Want My Love" from Keni's "Nothin' But Love" CD on Expansion. Additional vocals belong to another quality name from the recent past - Sam Salter. Sam's CD was reviewed back in late 1997 and it contained a few great ballads that truly highlighted the man's vocal skills. It is nice to have him back in 2004.
The late 80s style of Surface is the backdrop to "I Got What You Want" and vocally Kalvin reminds me of Ruscola from his "One Love One Struggle" CD, although lyrically it is rather repetitive and goes nowhere. "You Say" started out deceptively with a youthful R'n'B slant but soon settles into a compulsive track that, again, contains some rich acoustic texture and eerie synth in the fold. "Party Tonight" and "You And I" are rather disappointing. The former is an unnecessary street number, and the latter is a cover of the Stevie Wonder classic, and for me no-one can do this like Stevie can (OK, Angela Bofill did a good one with Norman Connors, but that's splitting hairs!).
Overall, a very satisfying album that gels soulful vocals and sultry rhythms in the mix along with Keni Burke's masterly hand in the background. Recommended.

AMP FIDDLER - Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly
(UK Genuine Records, 2004)

Intro - I Believe In You - Dreamin' - Superficial - Possibilities - Soul Divine - You Play Me - Eye To Eye - Love And War - If You Can't Get Me Off My Mind - Unconditional Eyes - This Is How - Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly

With a name such as Amp Fiddler I was expecting an amateur hi-fi engineer! Still, what can I say about this? Well, a pretty mixed bag of a CD that will not ennamour itself to the real hardcore purists out there. I am pretty much a bastion myself, or so I like to think, but there definitely are some sparkling moments on here for me in amongst some moments of dross. I say that, mind, but my better half is really getting into the whole CD, which is nice.
Musically we are in a Dwelé / Raphael Saadiq groove and I rather like some of it. It's chunky, funky and has some modicum of the early 1980s keyboards intertwined within the basslines and vocals. "Dreamin'" is the first song contained thereon that really does the business for me. This happy, retro-fied slab of midtempo magic smacks of summer and one can immediately tell that Raphael Saadiq has had a hand in this. This is Tony-fied funk in the vein of Blu, or even reminiscent of Portrait's songs such as "I Can Call You" from their excellent set from the same year.
Another summery vibe can be found on "Possibilities" with its early 80s vibe, tinkling piano and subtle, constant synth line. I am not sure if this is a sample in the background; it certainly isn't credited as such, but it is a great song nonetheless with jazzy overtones with the Bob James touches and swirling, although, understated strings. Vocalist Carl Thomas springs to mind on "You Played Me" which is a funky hammond-based tapper, and this is possibly the most "urban" that it gets, and though I rather like this I can see many readers not warming to it. That's good, though - its our differences that makes our music scene so diverse and vibrant.
I venture more to the taste of many is the excellent vibes-based bouncer "Eye To Eye" with its freaky keyboards, loose drums and hammond. Vocally, Amp is very very good and I have played this song a fair few times in a row. One for the car stereo this one. Talking of jazzy overtones, "Love And War" has a boss-nova beat, an afro-cuban feel with Norman Whitfield trumpet and a STRONG anti-war mesage. Do you think dear old George and Tony be listening? No, me neither.
From the battlefield of war to the battlefield of the heart next with the excellent Tony Toni Toné-ish "If You Can't Get Me Off Of Your Mind". This is right up in the Rahsaan Patterson / Jamey Jaz line of production. In other words, excellent. The subtle beat ballad (yes, sounds like an oxymoron, but trust me!) "This Is How" features some nice female backing vocals by Anetria Wright, along with some nice muted trumpet. I am sure this is aname familiar to me, but my poor addled brain is not at this moment able to connect her with anything specific!
The final song, I will purely mention as George Clinton makes an appearance. Not really my bag, but it might grow on me. I am sure fans of the man will appreciate it more readily than I.
Overall, then, I do like this CD but there are moments I do not like, which is par for the course. This will probably not be appreciated by all Lowdown readers, but I am aware that those who are into the Tony Toni Toné / Portrait / Glenn Lewis sound may really enjoy it. Heck, I did! If in doubt pop into your local store and check it out. The message is don't buy blind if in doubt!

SCOTT SMITH – Face To Face (JAP Cool Sounds, 2003)

Leave It Up To Him – You’re Too Late – The Vision – Face To Face – What Happened – Give Him Thanks – Get Free – The Prince Of The Dark – What You Mean To Me

I have been meaning to review this CD for some time – debating as to whether I should or not. I decided that it would be best as many I have spoken to are completely unaware of this album. This is a re-issue of a gospel set that was released on the Light label in the States back in 1984. To say I was shocked to see it listed on a Japanese mailing list is mild to say the least. Scott Smith is a producer, arranger and writer in the Christian music arena and has been associated with too many artists to actually list her, but to my knowledge this is his one and only solo effort. The vocals are left up to a number of the most talented vocalist from the non-secular arena that you are likely to find: Michael Ruff, Vonda Sheppard, and The Winans. Musically this is a shining example of quality soulful inspirational music that 1984 delivered. If you love songs from that time such as ""Just To Keep You In My Life" by the Temptations, "Closer Than Close" by Ramsey Lewis / Daryl Coley, "Lonely Nights" by The Valentine Brothers, "Stay Awhile" by George Duke and "Love Is The Answer" by Rodney Franklin then you really ought to have this quality CD in your collection. I admit that some lyrics on here are overtly Christian – it is a Gospel set after all – and as I do not subscribe to that particular point of view I find some of the lyrics very difficult to listen to. However, this is a minuscule problem when presented with the sheer quality and style of music contained thereon. I have five killers for you on here. The first, "You’re Too Late" is simply fantastic and Michael Ruff’s voice will definitely appeal to those who are fans of Gavin Christopher, Carl Anderson and the like. This song is about the rapture, I suppose, and although the message is not on target with me I cannot refute that this song is simply amazing. This is followed by one of my all-time favourite 1980s recordings: "The Vision". This racy, synth based stepper is complete spine-chills time and describes the ascendance to the heavens. This is such a happy, rousing song that I forget what the material is about. I could not tell you how many times I have played this song, both on original vinyl and now on CD. The song is a masterpiece of 80s soul / gospel and it topped off by a heavenly outro (no pun intended) that will leave goose-bumps on your skin. This segues into a very stripped down ballad that showcases Michael Ruff’s beautiful voice to such an extent that if you are anything like me, it will bring a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye. I believe the man has a new CD out and I really will have to check it out. The music is without tempo; simply keyboards and a soaring, angelic vocal performance. The Winans throw their weight behind "Set Free" and give us a superb performance that is more than reminiscent of James Ingram when the lead lets rip. I think that if you love the early 80s production sound of Jay graydon with Al Jarreau is to your taste then this will definitely be to your liking. The final killer on this album belongs to Vonda Sheppard who warns us of "The Prince Of The Dark". I don’t know about you, but few places I have worked for were run by the very creature she’s telling us about!!! It wasn’t even as if I was well paid either! That aside, this is an expensive CD but worth every single penny (available from I never expected to see this on CD in a million years, and if you are completely unaware of the CD please play the songs that I mentioned earlier in the review to get a taste of the musical flavour on this CD. I highly recommend this CD whether you follow a faith or not. The bottom line is it is great music with great singing. Enough said.

DEBORAH BOND – Day After (US Deborah Bond, 2003)

See You In My Dreams – A Message – Givin’ Up – Dayafter – Keep On – Sweet Lullabies – This Is Me – Don’t Waste Your Time – Love’s Been Waiting – Things Will Never Be The Same

What accolades can I not shower on this CD? I have been aware of this CD for a long time, and tipped off fellow music nut Toby Walker about this a very long time ago – and I have finally got round to reviewing it here. Some I know simply cannot get passed the first cut, and have it on repeat mode, as it is so good! To be fair I cannot say I blame them, although they would be very unwise as tracks 2 – 10 are equally as strong in their own merits. Deborah Bond (pronounced De-BOR-uh) lists her idols as Sade, Chaka Khan, and Anita Baker, and boy can you tell!
This is no tribute CD or wannabe act – Deborah and her tight band 3rd Logic (along with guest Craig Alston from Fertile Ground) is a strong, supra-talented outfit with a definite talent base on which they have built upon. I can definitely hear Rufus in the mix and Chaka’s "What You Gonna Do For Me" set to boot. That aside Deborah certainly is no mimic and allows her uniqueness to shine through – and that’s no mean feat for a woman of her tender age who we more rugged cynics would naturally assume to be a fan of the new RnB scene. Far from it. Soul, Funk and a heavy dash of Latin is the order of the day and a delightful, essential and dramatic mix it is.
The opening song is pure early 80s Chaka Khan and the irresistible urgent rhythm, funky bassline and slap guitar underpin an amorous, wanting woman who cannot wait to meet her lover in her dreams. Enough said! Track two, "A Message" follows, albeit a little more relaxed and exposes the great empathy that the band has between themselves and Deborah. I understand that in recent performances with Kem and Kindred The Family Soul that their major label soul-mates have been wowed and blown away by the band’s performance, and such compliments from big names in real, quality soul cannot and should not be ignored. 3rd Logic is comprised of Kinard Cherry (drums, guitar), Robbie McDonald (guitars, keyboard and programming), Aaron "Funky Chuck" Evans (bass and programming) and on my favourite Fender Rhodes and piano N’Digo Rose and finally Josh Kay (hand percussion.) All members have lyrical inclusions too, so song writing is yet another string to their bow.
The painfully short "Day After" is very interesting, and knowing that Deborah comes from a studied background in Music it is not surprising that the odd, futuristic yet enthralling drum beat that kick-start this song into a World rhythm gels so beautifully with the rest of the album. This song is very African, tribal but completely soulful and essentially urban. Quite a prelude to the ‘futuristic’ shuffly, drum-based intro to "Keep On" which initially raised my eyebrows but effortlessly slips into a mega-soulful midtempo with swirling strings and keyboard / bass combo. This song is just spellbinding, captivating and is another song that I have been playing regularly.
A lazy, hazy jazzy ballad style can be found on "Sweet Lullabies" which develops into a gorgeous piano laced downtempo smoocher. The mood is upped and changed into a FANTASTIC jazzy number on "This Is Me" which will be appreciated by those who classic 80s soul/jazz fusion. This is an EXCEPTIONAL track and Deborah’s Chaka Khan tendencies ride along the Latin rhythm along with some particularly raw flute work and funky bassline. Wait, though. There is more … as the track really gets swinging we enter serious Azymuth territory, the Brazilian flavour oozes that certain Sergio Mendes / Dave Valentin vibe right in your face. This song renders the CD essential in itself irrespective of "See You In My Dreams". Definitely on of the year’s best.
The more soulful, acoustic / Fender Rhodes filled "Don’t Waste Your Time" acts as a double whammy and allows you to be seriously knocked out by the lovely "Love’s Been Waiting" which is the cream of subtlety in its most devastating form. "Things Will Never Be The Same" tops off this CD and is very atmospheric with plenty of breadth and space within the tune. Its echoed, eerie expansiveness is a perfect foil for the more uptempo jazzy material, and I can definitely hear Sade wanting to do this song. Truth is Deborah is more talented and far more accomplished and would run rings around her idol.
There is a bonus track on this CD … hidden away at the very end. Another surprise cut which is excellent, funky and grove-ridden. Tip-top! As far as I am concerned, "Day After" has really thrown the gauntlet down not only for me as a critic, but to the industry as a whole. For me, I will at some point have to compile my favourite tracks / albums of 2003 and this CD has broken the camel’s back – and we still have some ESSENTIAL sets to come out yet! As for the industry…look at what you are missing here, fellas. Keep on with your programmed disposable artists and fads. Check out some real music. Truth is, after all is said and done I don’t think real soul music needs big companies anymore! This CD deserves a standing ovation.

JEFFREY OSBORNE – Music Is Life (US Koch / Jay-Oz, 2003)

Music Is Life – Rest Of Our Lives – Paradise – Say You’ve Had Enough – When You Loved Me - Called ID – Stranger – Her Kisses – Pretty Thing – I Don’t Know – One Love – Love The Pain Away – Ain’t No More

"Music Is Life" is rather disappointing. However, I still think this is a CD worth having and fans of Jeffrey Osborne will want this CD anyway. Dear old Jeffers hasn’t lost any of his vocal dexterity whatsoever and his tonsils still soar and ride as they did way back with his time with LTD. I liken a lot of the material on here to the style adopted on Barry White’s "Staying Power" CD – basic, stripped down and minimalist. For some it will be too programmed and synthetic as opposed to the fantastic efforts of the burgeoning indie movement and the neo soul movement. Another ‘problem’ as such is that Jeffrey has tried to broaden the appeal of the CD so widely that we almost lose sight of where he is coming from. In fact when "Music Is Life" started playing my other half, Dawn, turned to me and asked "how old is this guy again?" – she was surprised to hear that he was not 21, as she can hear the mechanical, soulless Justin Timberlake sound on some of the uptempo material. Aside from that, though the overall perception is that it is listenable but needs more soul infusing with it.
My favourite song is the CLASSIC "Rest Of Our Lives" which would be a massive, massive multi-million seller if times and attitudes were different. This is a stupendous slice of Jeffrey Osborne as we know and love him and if this is not big on US Adult radio then I will eat my hat. "Paradise" is a better track than the opening song, more soulful, funky and chunky with some nice backing vocals. Quite a catchy song once you play it a few times, actually. "Say You’ve Had Enough" reminds me of the excellent ballad efforts from R Kelly’s latest CD and I can hear the man attempting quite a bit of this CD. Essentially Jeffery Osborne, though, through and through. I guess I could even have a shot at saing that Christopher Williams may serve well on this, too. "When You Loved Me" is thoroughly contemporary and street but Jeffrey carries it off very well – and we must remember that this sort of thing is not new to hi. When "She’s On The Left" was released back in the autumn of 1988 that raised some eyebrows with its advanced arrangement. I rather like this song, surprisingly. I think it’s the fact that older artists who can sing are better able to interpret and deliver these tunes than the bland, packaged youths who are merely a front for record company profits and have nothing to do with music, heritage or longevity.
A more traditional tune is "stranger", but is ruined for me by a pathetic Atari-sounding beep-beep throughout and uninspired "la la la la" chorus. Pathetic. Could do better Jeffery. And he does! Skip the nasty "Her Kisses" and plumb for "Pretty Thing" which is more suited to our hero than harsh electronic beats. Again, "I Don’t Know" serves well as a beat ballad, and is one of the set’s highlights. "Love The Pain Away" is another ballad to enjoy and savour, but it has to be said that nothing on here touches his past material, and definitely does not touch "Soft And Slow" from his last CD – this song is still a monster today!
The CD closes with "Ain’t No More" which is a good’un too – but like the other songs it is restrained and lacks that X factor. It's always nice to have a new Jeffrey Osborne album but PLEASE, Jeffery do what you do best. Go back and check out your "Emotional" album and play "We Belong To Love" and "You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)", or even "All Because Of You" from the "One Love, One Dream" album and compare with what you have just recorded. No comparison is there? If you can deliver more like that then many others and I will be VERY pleased.

BEN TANKARD – Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me (US Verity, 2003)

Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me – The Altar – What The World Needs Now – Dance In Advance – One Hundred Ways – Ben’s Coffee House – Overjoyed – Did You Know? – Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me (inst version) – Don’t Worry

We have not zeroed in on major label activity for a while – not surprising since there has been nothing released, but here we have a gospel set from the acclaimed musician and composer, Ben Tankard on Verity Records. Not up to the mark of "Play Me In Your Key", but infinitely better than his hideous "Git Yo Praize On" effort. "Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me" is what I call a halfway house CD – not bad but not overly brilliant either, but with enough on there to warrant a purchase. This is still a very good CD and is most worthwhile, personally, for the title track. "Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me" features the excellent vocal talents of Harvey Watkins, Jr & The Canton Spirituals, and is a splendid piece of laid back, ethereal quiet storm soul / gospel in the vein of "Keys To Life" from his excellent "Keys To Life" album from 1992.
The spoken monologue by Harvey muses on his bad day (he should have of mine!) and how his Bible gives him inpiration and strength while the backing singers support with the catchiest, hook riddled chorus. You will be humming or singing this all day, I grant you. I am not in any way religiously inclined but I still appreciate the beauty and soulfulness of this type of music and there is no better gospel song around this moment than this. As far as instrumentals go, "The Altar" is just spellbinding. Another quality quiet storm moment that hits me with at least 2 reminisces. I hear the beauty of Bob James’ "Far From Turtle" and Marion Meadows’ "Wonderland". Needless to say I love it. Another classy instrumental is "Dance In Advance" which is more funky and would not be out of place on a Paul Brown overseen smooth jazz album. "One Hundred Ways" is a very nice song featuring the excellent vocals of Bishop A. R. Williams on vocals and Merlon Devine on sax sounding very much like Boney James! If Norman Brown is your bag then you will appreciate the funky jogger, "Ben’s Coffee House" which features Tim Bowman on guitar. As an instrumental this is rather jolly and isn’t exactly in the yawn-inducing smooth jazz bag. This has more of an edge.
As you know, I love the flute and Merlon Devine pops up again on this superb floater as does the excellent vocalist Cassandra Robertson who makes an inspired appearance on this semi-instrumental cut. Hopefully we will hear more from her in the future. Cassandra does play a more full-bodied part on the closing song, "Don’t Worry" and shows us listeners exactly what her mettle is – and she is a passionate, strong vocalist who makes mincemeat out of the pretty girls who are paraded about on MTV, BET etc and squeek away for us, orchestrated by the soulless conglomerate labels. This song is excellent, but for more secular ears like myself I do find the referencing a bit difficult – but as I say that does NOT deviate me from a beautiful song, lovely melody and a first-rate singer. There is also an instrumental version of "Play A Lil’ Song 4 Me" should you want it too. I happen to like this CD, although it is not one of his better efforts and I definitely recommend a listen online or in your local importers.

MIDNIGHT STAR – 15th Avenue (US Reel Star Records, 2003)

(Intro) M.S. In The House – Luv 2 Get 2 Know You – 15th Avenue – I Like (When You Dance With Me) – Hooked On You – Just Flow With me – "VIP" – Caught Up In The Moment – Should Have Been Me – Black Girl – Just Because I Love You – Out Tonight – We Were Meant To Be – Movin’ On – 15th Avenue (Old School Mix)

I have always preferred the ballads performed by this classic group, and have tended to shun away from their dancefloor material, but after a gap of 13 years this album turns the tables on me! I tend to lean towards the mid / up tempo tracks on here and the ballads take more of a back seat. Now don’t get me wrong, as I do love the ballads on here, but take a listen and you'll see what I mean.
The trademark sound of the Midnight Star I know and love from the 80s is especially encapsulated on a number of songs, so what this group have done is far exceeded my expectations, and what a blinding CD they have provided for fans of quality soul music! I will deal with the 'bouncy' tracks first, then move onto the ballads. The first 2 tracks are not my cup of tea, and are of the electronic type of dancer that completely leaves me cold as much now as they did in the 1980s. This is where it gets more interesting, though as from track 3 there is little that I cannot recommend!
There are two versions of the title track – both are good but I have to plumb for the "Old School Mix" which is a true 80s inspired rump shaker that utilises the sweet vocals of McArthur and Belinda Lipscomb. They sound as good as they did way back in the days of "Headlines" and such like. Play this loud alongside the funky stompers from Johnson & Branson, Zapp and Skip Martin from this year.
It’s obvious that the group have aimed to target today’s new audiences alongside their long-term fanbase. They have, I suspect, succeeded on both counts and have done a sterling effort. The funky tapper "I Like (When You Dance With Me)" is a prime example and uses a sampled vocal refrain (I think!) from Caron Wheeler’s "I Adore You". Anyway, the blinking beats and the freaky synth is added to an irresistible rhythm that I had feared no longer existed until the likes of this CD, Johnson & Branson etc arrived! Indeed, the chunky vibe of "VIP" brings back memories of their glorious past, and is complimented by a keyboard line that reminds me of Portrait's "Lovin’ You Is Ah-Ight". Great dancer, this. Remember Sam Salter’s atmospheric "Your Face" from the latter part of 1997? Well, I loved that song, and "Out Tonight" is right out of that vibe and is a GLORIOUS example of 80s / 2003 groove n’ soul. I love this song to pieces and have flogged it to death in my overworked CD player! One bit of advice - play it LOUD!
Onto the ballads then: On this album I get a sense of classic LA & Babyface and the quality is very high too but there is nothing on here that can touch "Red Roses" or "Love Song" and that crafting of song. That aside, "Hooked On You" is just lovely and harks back to the late 80s which is certainly a plus for me (I think that I left my musical heart in 1989 if truth be known) and the harmonies on here are tight and the interplay between McArthur and Bo Watson are impeccable. Bo Watson & McArthur have written a number of songs for other artists throughout the 1990s, and they wrote the brilliant "Turn Down The Lights" for Shanice Wilson on her "21 Ways To Grow" CD on Motown and if you, like me, loved that song then "Caught Up In The Moment" will be very much to your taste.
The heart wrenching "Should Have Been Me" is also good as is the melancholy "Just Because I love You". One of the better ballads in the Babyface inspired "We Were Meant To Be" which harks back to the classy late 80s sound of After 7, Karyn White and The Whispers as well as Midnight Star themselves! This is a lovely song and along with the essential "Movin’ On" sits very neatly sandwiched by the two chunkiest, funkiest and best head nodders on the CD. I highly rate this CD and can wholeheartedly recommend both dancers and ballads.

MARLON SAUNDERS – Enter My Mind (US Black Honey, 2003)

Enter My Mind – You Move Me – Keep On Doin’ What Ya Do – For Love – Premonition – Love Serenade – Inspiration – Who Will Go – Afro Blue My Mind – Coolin’ – Given A Chance – Stone Out Of Hope – If Its Magic – The Beginning Of Never

Looking straight at us from the cover in Leroy Hutson mode, Marlon Saunders delivers what many critics including myself will rightly see as one of the definitive albums of 2003. Former lead singer with Jazzhole, Saunders is no new kid on the block. Having worked with many renowned artists such as Sting, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Bobby McFerrin already and has composed songs for Barry White, Maysa and Vanessa Rubin he is definitely an accomplished artist already.
"Enter My Mind" is a continuation, a growth for him by honing a musical sound that is in the neo-soul tradition (how I hate that term!) Neo Soul (or whatever it is called) or not, Marlon has gone back to musical basics, and easily towers above the manufactured youth-orientated tripe churned out by the faceless, soulless, major conglomerates. We have elements of The Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield all edged with a very ‘today’ quality finish. Readers who bought recent albums like Donnie, Kindred, Kem and Big Brooklyn Red will be the first to immediately recognise its potential. Already a hot property here in the UK, and due for release on Soul Brother Records in October, "Enter My Mind" meets ALL of my benchmarks for quality real soul music in 2003. The album is rich with fine musical arrangements, jazzy flavours and soulful vocals with a powerful accumulation of black music tradition and sensibility, and a quiet assurance of what he has produced for today.
I would say that this album betters Donnie’s "Colored Section. Marlon entwines social comment, positive thought, love and desire and into an amorphous mulch of a CD which opens up in a classy mid 1980s Hush Productions style with the title track. This song grabbed me in the same way as did Ray, Goodman & Brown’s recent "Stay"; in other words I was mesmerised and instantly looked up and said "YES, THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!!!".
The rootsier side of Marlon opens itself up with "Keep Doin’ What Ya Do" with his funky backbeat, guitar, organ and loping socially conscious semi-rap / oratory. I was also struck by the superb Donnie / Impromp2-ish "For Love", again with a gentle spoken / sung approach. The vibes and bassline are straight out of the late 70s / early 80s and jolly good they are to boot.
If strings are your thing then the drop-dead paced "Premonition" will be up your street. Personally, I prefer the chunkier, funkier "Love Serenade" which is classic Impromp2 a la "Definition Of Love" album; the groove is infectious and bass and keyboards are a dreamy accompaniment to the stabbing strings and Keni Burke stylised bassline. The style reverts to the classy 80s format on "Inspiration" and acts as a nice change in tempo and style. The clever "Afro Blue My Mind" should fill a few dancefloors withs its heavy bassline and Mtume "Juicy Fruit"sample underpinning the whole shabang. The fickle London Club scene should dig this in a BIG way, as well as more discerning clubs elsewhere. This is a modern classic and easily rates as high as material recorded by the BIG artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Donnie etc recently. ESSENTIAL groove-laden funky soul.
And yet, Ladies and Gentleman these are NOT my favourite songs! For my two Cents worth, tracks 10 – 14 are the real icing on the cake. I cannot stress enough how essential these songs are. "Coolin’ Out" is nothing short of a quiet classic, a laid back tune with Summer definitely in mind and the style and lyrics definitely are a head nodder to the classic, classic artists that have been shamelessly ignored and dumped by the conglomerates. I hear The Dazz Band, I hear Kool & The Gang and even a passing atmosphere of Smokey Robinson’s "A Quiet Storm" album. I know Philip Bailey would be proud of Marlon’s falsetto … just MONSTER! The tempo rises and the hi-hat taps away alongside the dreamy keyboards on the excellent "Given A Chance". Marlon and his band have an assertive combo of backing singers and they make their presence felt in a big way. "Stone Out Of Hope" is a KILLER and right from the Kindred / Donnie / Impromp2 mould and is simply blinding. The flute and acoustic guitar really breathes colour into the already superb arrangement.
My favourite song actually caps off the CD … "The Beginning Of Never" is one of THE songs of 2003. You must hear this song to understand the brilliance of it. Don’t take my word for it … just take a listen to this yourself … a song beyond brilliance. What more can I say, folks … 3 years into the 21st Century and music is coming back. Let us celebrate the Marlon Saunders’ of this world and make sure the music we cherish so dearly gets the love, respect and promotion it deserves.

CAROL DUBOC – Duboc (US Gold Note, 2002)

Away – This Is No Ordinary Love – If You Want To – It’s a Feeling – Anyone Who Had A Heart – You’re All I Ever Needed – El Gaucho – Walk On By – I Wanna Love Someone – A Love Letter – When I’m Close To You – Secrets

I have mentioned Carol Duboc favourably before in another review, but until now have not reviewed her on her own vocal merits. So, who is Carol Duboc? A new name to some, but I venture that this Lady is in fact very familiar to you already for her superb writing ability. From this Lady’s pen has borne the songs "Precious" by Chanté Moore, "I Would Never Do You Wrong" by Stephanie Mills and "Slow And Gentle" by Ricky Lawson & Friends amongst many others. As you know, all these tracks are excellent and can so ascertain how good this CD is put all in the quality bracket so this gives us a very worthwhile yardstick. Well, let’s put it this way – if you own Will Downing albums, Marilyn Scott albums and such like then you should really be looking at owning this too.
What Carol Duboc is about is jazz with a soulful twist and a splash of Latin for good measure. Some hefty names are also involved with this album and also help solidify the quality basis on which this CD is founded, which is Carol’s excellent writing and angelic vocal abilities. These include Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Luis Conte on percussion, Hubert Laws on flute, Gerald Albright on saxophone, Wayne Johnson on guitar, Jeff Lorber on keyboards and the late, great Patrick Moten on piano and composition. In fact, for my money this is the best vocal jazz CD I have heard this year and easily on the same par with Marilyn Scott’s latest works.
There are 9 original compositions that are all first rate and 3 covers, two of which are the poor relations of the album. The best cover version is a cover of Wayne Shorter’s 1966 classic "El Gaucho" which is simply blinding. "Away", this breezy Latin number sets the mood on this gorgeous CD; I hear the music of Gabriella Anders, Marilyn Scott and Sergio Mendes encapsulated in this rhythm and as such it is a real taste of summer now as we head into autumn. "This Is No Ordinary Love" is a KILLER by every standard set. Easily comparable, musically, to the cream cuts on Brenda Russell’s "Paris Rain" album.
The following cut is a heady mix of jazz, dazzling over with flute and raw percussion and the bassline and vocal angle reminds me of Erykah Badu’s less street material such as "Didn’t Cha Know". This mix of sounds really is fantastic and should appeal to both jazz-heads and neo-soul devotees. Those of you who were astute enough to check out and enjoy the last Carole King CD for the scintillating soul / jazz offerings contained thereon should warm to "I Wanna Love Someone". This has all the hallmarks of the classic songs "You Can Do Anything" and "I Didn’t Wanna Fall In Love" from said Carole King set (if you do not have that CD then please check it out as it is ESSENTIAL).
"You’re All I Ever Needed" must be one of the last pieces that Patrick Moten wrote before his untimely passing and is just an exquisite, quality recording straight from the corner of Chapter 8 and Anita Baker’s Beverly Glen material. Just stunning. The penultimate song "When I’m Close To You" hits a Latin vibe, again with a neo-soul edge and allows the final song, "Secrets" to wrap up the album expertly. I was left wanting more. I didn’t want the CD to stop, and I hope that Carol and her label are busy preparing another album for us in the same vein as this – although her second album it rates for me personally far more than her first set.
I had voiced concerns about the lack of quality female vocalists in the soul / jazz arena at present … well, here comes Carol to the rescue. If you love the likes of Norah Jones and Diana Krall you will like this MUCH more … this is more than a set of familiar, well-trodden standards, however well they are recorded, and is not aimed at the muzak market – believe me this CD puts the aforementioned to shame. No self-proclaimed jazz / soul lover should be without this album.

CHRIS JASPER – The Best Of Chris Jasper (US Gold City, 2003)

Exotic Lover – Like I Do – I’ll Be There For You – Margie – Don’t Take Your Love Away – Givin’ My All – The First Time – Forever – Let Me – Deep Inside – Cling To Me – Its Workin’ – Hit On You – One Time Love – Nobody But My Baby

Chris Jasper is one of the many undervalued, overlooked yet most magnificent talents in the soul / R&B / Gospel genre today. This man has penned so many classics, songs that will stand the test of time. With the recent Best of Isley Jasper Isley released by Legacy / Sony in the US, it is with great pleasure that Chris releases his very own ‘best of’ that comprises his favourites from all his solo offerings. This must have been a very difficult job and a painstaking one to boot as this man has recorded so much magic on his Gold City imprint that a 15 track CD can still do him no real justice. But that is not to say that it is futile to attempt as boy it is not! This CD works well in 2 ways. Firstly, those of you, like me, who have bought the man’s music the moment it rolls off the presses will want this for the excellent NEW track, "Exotic Lover" which is CLASSIC Chris Jasper from start to finish. Secondly it contains some stonking great favourites from all his solo sets and for those who may need an introduction then what better than this? With the new cut, one cannot help but feel the luscious, sexy groove of "Between The Sheets" and "Choosy Lover" and other timeless classics in this song, and Chris’s vocals are as strong as ever. I hope that this is a forerunner of a new album!

Not all of my favourites are on this CD, but my key, numero uno, KILLER, essential all-time favourite is on here and comes hot on the heels of the new recording. When I first heard "Like I Do" on Andy Peebles’ Soul Train back in February 1988 I was floored and was instantly over to my nearest import store. When I hear this song I still go cold and emotional. Nothing that anyone records today can compare with this awesome song; it has atmosphere, passion and conviction and is sung from the heart. What more does a soul boy like me want for Pete’s sake?! Again, from "Superbad" is the airy "Givin’ My All" and "One Time Love" which are shining stars, and so is the soaring midtempo "The First Time" which always reminds me of the lovely summer we had back in 1989. I admit that was the only favourite I had on the "Time Bomb" album and it is good to see it included on here. "Let Me", "Deep Inside" and "Cling To Me" are all paramount tracks from 1994’s "Deep Inside" and are essential listening. I have to mention here that apart from this CD you can still buy ALL of Chris’s CDs AND all his other productions. Liz Hogue’s in-demand "Vicious & Fresh" is available without the stupid collectors prices, "bids only" and ‘offers’ against it as I readily see every time I look at a collector’s site (Check "Ready Made Love" and "Dream Lover" – 2 more Summer 1989 faves). There is also the gospel outings by Brothaz By Choice and Out Front (remember the glorious "Angel" track?) so there is no need to be without the essential Chris Jasper collection. Add to that the very well compiled "Best Of Isley Jasper Isley" CD and what more could you really ask for? OK, OK, a new Chris Japer CD … let’s hope he’s been busy! This is another CD available at CD Baby, as well as Chris' website.

CHAD BORJA – Show Me The Way (Warner Music Philippines, 2000)

Kung Ako Lang Sana – Let My Love Inside – Tulog – Summer Without You – Parang Kahapon Lamang – Love Letter From The Heart – Show Me The Way – Someone – If You Walked Away – With You

Many thanks to my good friend and "Lowdown" reader, Richard Busiakiewicz, for alerting me to this GEM of a soul CD. If not for him this album and the gorgeous tracks contained therein would have never been known to me in a million years. I cannot thank him enough for this exposé. The reason for this is because this was only released in the Philippines!!! However, there are outlets in the US via the Internet, which have this so fear not! Hailing from the same location as the beautiful Kuh Ledisma, Chad Borja is in the bag that I consider Sophistisoul. Lovers of the quality soul flavours of the late 80s and early 90s will want this CD for definite. I was stopped in my tracks by "Let Your Love Inside" – I can honestly say that I have woken up in the middle of the night with this song in my head and I simply cannot get enough of it. If you love the breezy ballad / midtempo offerings of Barry J. Eastmond and the like then you will die for this song. In fact, a close comparison would be a heady mix of Chapter 8, Al Jarreau’s "Tomorrow Today" album or even the blissful material on Ricky Lawson’s 1999 CD, "Ricky Lawson & Friends". Why on earth was this particular CD not released in America? "Let My Love Inside" is such a happy, sublime song with Chad’s mega-soulful vocals really in command over the lush instrumentation. Jap-Jazz keyboard legend Yutaka has produced this CD and has done a fantastic job of giving the man a broad appeal with his native homeland and the wider world with compositions that are in Chad’s own tongue, as well as English. Those guesting on the CD, and offering musical support should give an indication of the calibre of this CD. Kevyn Lattau offers her vocal talent, Scott Mayo appears on sax, Bunny Hull composes and Valerie Pinkston of Chapter 8 and Arnold McCuller add their vocal skills. Musically this CD scales the heights of quality, and even if I haven’t a clue what the man is singing about on 3 tracks, the music is still damn good!!! However, I will as you expect concentrate on the English vocal cuts. The songs are just amazing. I have previously enthused about "Let Your Love Inside" (my track of the moment!), but also give a listen to "Someone" which is an excellent cover version of the Jay Graydon penned song from El DeBarge’s first solo Gordy album back in 1986. This is a blistering version that remains true to the original and is yet struck in its own quality mould. Great stuff, and one that would be MASSIVE on radio. The other songs I also like, but for some these may be considered too MOR orientated for some listeners. Myself, I happen to like them, especially the strong duet between Chad and the tasty Kuh (the lucky, lucky…). "Summer Without You" has great vocal interplay and would be a sure-fire Jazz FM smash is given the exposure – as would the other songs most definitely. D-Macon (of "Falling" fame) is a close vocal comparison for Chad on this song. "If You Walked Away" hits MOR territory but is the type of material that soul connoisseurs will still truly appreciate. If Peabo Bryson can do it with style then why not anyone else? Track 10 closes the CD down in a classy, classy way. All I can say is that Ralph Tee at Expansion should be making those contacts NOW to licence this for the UK and Europe. OK, so this CD is obscure and straight of the blue but I assure you that you do not want to miss this one.

LARRY GOLD: Presents Don Cello And Friends (UK Barely Breaking Even, 2003)

No Stoppin – Lovig You – Dance – And I Hope – Travelin’ – Feel So Good – All That You Are – Nothin’ – Just A Dream – Everybody – Can I – Outro

My favourite track of 2003 can be found on this album. But I will leave that ‘til last! For those who may not have realised Larry Gold is nothing short of a LEGEND. We especially know and love Larry from the Philadelphia Orchestra and TSOP working with such greats as MFSB and Teddy Pendergrass among others. That was then, but today Larry is the top cellist and THE string arranger of today; in-demand with a myriad of artists that stretch from today’s pop and rap icons, through to favourites such as Eric Benét, Erykah Badu and R Kelly.
After a recording history of over 30 years Larry gives us his first solo album. This is not an album of retrospective instrumentals but is a CD that has its head in today, with a serious nod to the past. This CD is a who’s who of talent, and is gelled together perfectly by the sheer brilliance of the man’s string arrangements and production. Typical Larry Gold, then! I have plenty of favourites on this album. I will head you straight to the KILLER midtempo offering, "Loving You" featuring the brilliant vocals of Carol Riddick who Larry worked with during her time at Motown … although she was set adrift as they didn’t know what to do with her! Unbelievable! Well, Larry certainly knows what the Lady is capable of and Carol shines brightly on the soulful Philly head-nodder for 2003. Please enjoy this song, and hope that we get more from Carol in the near future.

Gerald Levert follows up his excellent "G Spot" album with this passionate performance on the uptempo "Dance" which he co-wrote with Larry Gold and Bunny Sigler. This tapper is an excellent example of modern Philly soul / dance which should be more in abundance today. British poets Floetry add their magic to the laid-back groove of "And I Hope"; their spoken word and soft harmonies are perfect on this superb string-laden, philly guitar spiced jewel. Fans of Kindred The Family Soul will be pleased to see the inclusion of this fine, fine, pairing on their own ballad "All That You Are" which features some gorgeous strings.
From the youthful quarter comes Jaguar Wright who you will be familiar with. Her song, "Nothin’" is, along with "Just A Dream" possibly the most accessible of the young artists on display here for real soul fans. This is a worthwhile track and well worth a spin. "Just A Dream" performed by Erro (Eric Roberson) is an excellent, yet understated ballad; the music is great and the vocals are straight out of the Kenny Lattimore camp so fans of Kenny and quality soul with love this track.

Now for my favourite track! NOTHING on here, and nothing released so far this year by anybody can touch the BRILLIANCE of this track. "Can I" is the best soul record by far this year … and what has come together on this recording is something so special that nothing I write can paint an adequate or realistic picture. The gorgeous music is straight from the heyday of Philadelphia International in the 1970s, the strings are unequalled, the musicians tender and strong and all this is topped off by the best performance I believe Bunny Sigler has delivered in years. If you love Philly classics such as Dexter Wansel’s "Holding On" and "One Million Miles From The Ground" then this is for YOU. I love this song to pieces and well up when I hear it. I cannot believe that this level of quality was being recorded in 2003 a nd I for one can not thank Larry and Bunny enough, but also the good people at BBE for releasing it here in the UK.
And if I was not aghast from that song I was blown away by the final instrumental cut, simply titled "Outro". Again, this is CLASSIC piece of the 70s Philly sound cut this side of the Millennium and as a result is nothing short of awesome. Honestly, I was astounded by these two songs and am blown away by the sheer beauty of them. These are cherished tracks for me and I can liken "Outro" in part not only to classic MFSB sound, but also to the reprise of "Beautiful Black Princess" for the Whitehead Brothers’ 1994 Motown set, and also "Situations" by Leroy Hutson. There is nothing better for me than a fantastic string section and these two songs cannot be beaten for this. These songs are what we really, truly want. This is what real soul music is about, and if Gamble & Huff and Philadelphia International were still in business with MFSB today then this is what I should expect to hear.
Beyond essential, please do not overlook this CD.

WILL WHEATON – Consenting Adults (US Platinum Bass, 1998)
Le’ Me Ride – Jiggy Love – Testify – Love Thang – Let’s Do This – Love’s Here – Baby Its On – Let Me Love You – Stop Wasting Time – Show You The Way To Love – I Belong To You – My Promise

I was listening to Lincoln Adler’s "The Dream" CD (Chartmaker, 1996) and got to my favourite song which is "Show You The Way To Love". If you recall I reviewed this great CD back in the summer of 1997 in "The Lowdown" and raved about the song and the great new singer that stole the show. Well, that got me wondering what, if anything, Will Wheaton was doing now … what he is doing now is recording a brand new CD, but what I have picked up here for your delight and delectation is his first CD which until I went surfing I knew not existed!
Will’s vocals are very, very soulful, and his voice plummets as low as the great Isaac Hayes, and as such is a sheer powerhouse in his delivery. Although this set was released in 1998 (some tracks are from 1994) I cannot believe how ‘now’ it sounds. In fact, in an email from the man he expressed how he was blown away by the sheer interest in the CD today than when it was released.
I agree with Will that the set was, for all intents and purposes, ahead of its time. I can see this where the uptempo material is concerned as the style is definitely not out of place with today’s chunkier, funkier rhythms. I am also very impressed with the quality of the songs. This is an independent set which easily fares well against the major labels and I believe is far better as Will has done what he wants to do, and with whom he wants to do it with – and this is another pulling factor for me.
You see, what Will has done is create a well-rounded, textured album that caters for all tastes and contains different paces for different moods. The general gist of the CD is summed up eloquently by the liner notes: "And remember listening to this album alone is not advised you must be in the presence of another consenting adult!" OK, this is a CD for horizontal dancing and no bones about it.
As for who is helping Will on this CD, that’s the best part. Lincoln Adler appears with the aforementioned "Show You The Way To Love", so if you don’t own that cut you now have no excuse, and we also have the VERY classy work of Producer / pianist Raymond Jones with the KILLER ballad, "Baby Its On". That song rates as high as any killers do on his latest "Intimate" album.
Will, on this song, is as mature and adult as you can hope for and this song is pure CLASS. Do not miss this song whatever you do. If that is not enough then I implore you to check out the HEAVENLY final cut, "My Promise" which is delivered to us courtesy of producer S. Mayo who is a Chapter 8 affiliate and wrote the glorious "Give Me A Chance" of their "Forever" album. AND Chapter 8 member Valerie Pinkston can be heard doing background vocals. If that isn’t classy, then you tell me what is!
More classy ballad action can be found on track 4 which is complete quality – I like the occasional dramatic synth flourish which reminds me of Prince. "Let’s Do This" has a flavour of Christopher Williams vocals tied in with the sort of groove we heard on the latest Manhattans CD such as "Can You Take It" which was a composition by … Will Wheaton! Will brushes aside the programmed beats for real instruments and a more raw, live touch for "Love’s Here" which is, again, an excellent track which hints of By All Means’ material on their much underrated Motown set. The Stan Sheppard / Jimmy Varner theme continues with the late 80s sounding "I Belong To You". All these songs are just exceptional by anyone’s standards and personally I would buy the CD purely for any one of songs, but there is also the more uptempo material to get our teeth into. I was not expecting "Le’ Me Ride" or "Jiggy Love" to be anything worth reviewing but I couldn’t be any more wrong. The Isaac-inspired vocals on "Le’ Me Ride" complete with its funky, infectious bassline is little short of superb. Slinkier, and dirtier still in the beats department is "Jiggy Love". What is Jiggy? I must be past it! Or, so far past it I’ve forgotten what it is! Whatever it is Will obviously enjoys it and I certainly enjoyed this CD.
Where was I when this was released? Why isn’t it more popular? Whatever the reason it doesn’t matter now. With a new CD in the offing, complete with a tribute to the late, great Barry White (the new single) and this set as fresh as a newly baked loaf who really cares. Available direct from Will on his website CD Baby will be stocking this shortly too. ESSENTIAL SOUL.

JARRARD ANTHONY – Don’t Sleep…Just Dream (US Jap Music, 2003)

Sweet Memories – Candy – What’s Going Down – True Love – So D-Vine – Lovesick – Circle Of Us – Can’t Believe (You Cheated) – Don’t Ever? – In Your Eyes – The Dream

"Don’t Sleep … Just Dream" is another strong Independent album from CD Baby with Major label quality-like production, but without the hang-ups. Jarrard Anthony is the type of quality soul artist that we would have seen released (but not bothered with) by the Majors in the mid-1990s. Much of the album is what I deem quality adult contemporary with street sensibilities, so many readers may take that or leave it, but I rather like it – his vocals and the overall structure is very classy. We are not talking the typical Uptown / MTV fodder here, folks.
Toby Walker in his Soulwalking site likens this CD to the recent Kloud 9 set and the aborted Otis & Shugg project. He is definitely not wrong in his assertion, and I can here a few more elements that spring to mind on listening as well, which I shall mention later. What has grabbed this scribe regarding this album are the quality ballads, especially the end 4 tracks on the set which are simply wonderful quality adult soul for 2003. Jarrard has penned some seriously sensitive lyrics that elevates the previous songs from street to stratosphere, but it is the ballad cuts that take us higher – especially the glorious end cut, "The Dream" with its chunky keyboards and sax – lovers of Kloud 9 should dig this track and so Toby is right on the head with this. A mellow funk undercurrent, and delivered in what many would claim to be a ‘neo-soul’ flavour. The lyrics are interesting too and are a refreshing topic. If only Jarrard had written about some of my freaky dreams. I’m still waiting to be carted off still, you know!
As for the vocals, I would say it was a very fair to say that it is an interesting hybrid of Mikki Bleu for the most part, with inflections of Freddie Jackson to boot. Not many younger singers can have that mix – most sound either like Stevie Wonder or each other – its that chicken and egg syndrome isn’t it – who’s copying whom, and are we really bothered anyway?!
The first 4 tracks are possibly more ‘street’ in flavour than the taste buds of Soul Express readers may like – but I rather like them. I particularly like the single, "Sweet Memories" which also has a fine video featuring a very fine young Lady whom our man has serious reminiscences of years later when she is on the arm of another man. Yeah, we’ve all been there. This sums it up pretty well. As you may expect, I am more a ballad man, so I usually gravitate toward them first. The first to really attract my attention is the Mikki Bleu influenced "So D-Vine" – this style is straight from the "Honeyland" sessions and I feel that you will appreciate this track similarly. I for one rate it as highly.
This style flows effortlessly into the gorgeous "Lovesick" which has a wonderful ‘stepped’ chorus line and melodic structure that could be likened to the excellent Todd Rundgren (I’m thinking of his mid 70s Bearsville recordings, and the track "Useless Begging" in particular). This track is written in part and produced by the excellent Bob Baldwin. With Jarrard’s obvious talents this additional support edges the quality of the CD even further. "Can’t Believe You Cheated" has that Mikki Blue element and has the same appeal of the ballads contained on Freddie Jackson’s last CD, "Life After 30".
Furthermore, when "Don’t Ever" gets into gear what we have confirmed is that Jarrard is a top-quality soul vocal performer able to craft some soulful melodies and expertly deliver them. This is a sensuous track and is helped by smooth backing vocals and synth-strings over a loose backing beat. Talking of impressive, none other than the great pianist Bobby Lyle opens up the dreamy "In Your Eyes". With jazzy friends like Bobby Lyle and Bob Baldwin who can expect anything but a good album?!
As I mentioned earlier, my favourite song, "The Dream" caps the set off and will appeal to those who like a more organic, real instrument approach to soul music, all with a touch of jazz. This really is a classy contemporary set that will appeal to a broad range of people. Soulful, street flavoured in places, jazzy and very accessible. A CD to savour, and an artist to look out for. Highly recommended.

ASAPH WOMACK – My Love My Life (US GA Soul, 2003)

My Prayer – I Tried It All – You’re The One – Sunshine – The 5 W’s – Tell Me Girl – I Apologise – Come Back To Me – Key To My Heart – Heaven – I’ll Be There – I Love You So

There is a lot of hype surrounding this CD and I can see why some soul music stores are raving so much about it. This is a very good album, with VERY strong tracks and I can recommend it wholeheartedly. "My Love My Life" easily wipes the floor with fully funded major label efforts such as the LSG, Luther Vandross and so on. This is a CD that can be left in the player without resorting to skipping tracks. In fact, the set simply improves and improves on every play: it’s what I call a homeopathic CD! Meaning that a small of dose of it every day will ensure that it gets into your bloodstream and work its magic over time!
Asaph Womack is a relative of the legendary Bobby Womack no less, but he does not use this family connection to further his own career. Asaph has worked hard on his own merits to get to where he has. He is a singer, songwriter, a producer and can play piano and drums. At the age of 17 he was the lead singer of an accapella group called True Image. Impressive stuff!
Vocally Mr. Womack is a vocal hybrid of the raspier Calvin Richardson with the silkier tongued Eric Benét. In fact, the rootsier, guitar based folksy soul approach of Richardson on "Country Boy" and the subtler elements of Eric Benét’s "A Day In The Life" album sum up the musical contents rather nicely. So if you love those 2 artists and their styles then this is the CD for your listening pleasure. There are no unhealthy street / urban influences here and no guest rappers or samples. Thank God! Call this neo-soul, organic or what I don’t care, but MTV material it is not.
The KILLER track on here is the glorious flute punctuated track, "I’ll Be There" which should be a Quality Time inclusion for 2003. Midtempo magic, crammed with real instruments and warm summery vibrations, this really is a must-have track. Accolades to for the rest of the CD, from "I Tried It All" through to "I Love You" this is one soulful journey with ballads, midtempos both smooth and rough. The neo-soul/funk flavour that ignites the album features some excellent scratchy guitar, real live instrumentation and an expression of style that the Majors have forgotten exists! I can her the Eric Benét influence on the keyboard-filled "You’re The One" – in fact this could easily be a vocal track from Jeff Lorber; it has that classy soul/jazz GRP/Verve quality to it, the tune rates that highly. I can hear many influences on "Sunshine" apart from the aforementioned. Vocally Asaph is more laid-back and at falsetto in places displaying his dextrous vocal shifts.
There is a more contemporary cut, "The 5 W’s", that is so similar to Rahsaan Patterson’s pending material that it is scary. I mean that the new Rahsaan Patterson CD is an essential one! Maxwell springs to mind on the beat ballad "I Apologise", but delves into Calvin Richardson / Tommy Sims territory on the acoustic soul of "Come Back To Me and "Key To My Heart". The influence of Stevie Wonder can be felt in a subtle way on the superb stepper "Heaven"; a truer name for the song than he may realise. The CD ends with the funk knocker "I Love You" and sealed the lid on what has to be one of the better soul sets of 2003. Once again the independent artist wins the day.

CHUCK MILLS – Thank You (US Chas Charm, 2003)

No Romance w/o Finances – Thank You – Whisper In My Ear – Rachel – One Other Woman – Love Brought Me Home (Cause Pimpin Ain’t Easy) – Just Because I Love You – Love Is What You Need – Give My Heart To You – She Gave Up (On Our Love) – Everything’s About Her.

More Indie excellence from the CD Baby stable. The rise of independent artists such as Chuck Mills is astonishing, and this is not the way of the future, it is the medium of the here and now. Chuck is a guitarist-vocalist of the highest order and an Ohio native, now residing in sunny California, and learned to play guitar during his youth. This album has been, perhaps, a long time in coming but as I keep saying, the technology and medium for all talent is readily available now and thus we are beginning to see a renaissance in real black music.
Chuck is a part of this. His album is one that I enjoyed from the starting pistol through to breaking the winning tape. For me, even if this were a one-track album it would be purchased straight away: I was immediately grabbed by this CD when I heard the SUPERB single "Whisper In My Ear" played on the radio. This song, a brilliant 80s styled laid back jogger, grabbed my ears. In fact, the opening bars of the track with Chuck’s vocals had me thinking it was an unreleased Ali Ollie Woodson song!

Apart from elements of Ali Woodson in the vocals I can hear a prominence of Ernie Isley’s vocal talents too, as well as the obvious guitar influence of the great man. If you do not own Ernie’s 1990 Elektra set "High Wire" album, then please check it out should you see it. I am thinking of songs such as "Fair Weather Friend" and "Song For The Muses" for vocal comparison from said album, and this is very close likeness indeed, believe me. Furthermore, I can hear the melodies of Isley Jasper Isley on this album too, a la their "Different Drummer" period, mainly in the chorus and keyboards of the excellent "Whisper In My Ear" and as such this should appeal to a wide variety of soul lovers. It certainly is a great choice for a single, as it has received decent airplay here in the UK on quality radio, and in Europe via The Soul of Amsterdam.

To the rest of the excellent CD then - This is not a CD that plods along at the same pace where all tracks melt into each other. It is a very worthwhile CD that I can put on and leave on. It is neither boring or samey. Chuck crafts his melodies very well indeed and uses his skills to weave the magic of soul, funk and contemporary R&B to good effect: dropping in a funky bassline here, a dash of various guitar styles here and there, all aside his ample vocal talent. "Thank You" is mainly a midtempo album, and the first song, "No Romance w/o Finance" really sets the pace for the entire CD. For example, "One Woman Man" is a clear winner for these ears. The funky moog bass line and definite drum backing consolidate the head-nodding mood as does the dreamy keyboard scales and Ernie-ish vocals and funky electric guitar. Apart from the obvious Isley influence, I hear a healthy smack of Chuckii Booker in the bass line which is sure to keep me happy! Play this loud, folks, and in the words of Robbie Vincent allow your bass-pins to tremble!

This is just superb and is a contrast to the mellower 80s vibes of "Thank You" and "Rachel". "Rachel" tells the tale of a Lady who definitely knows the game of life and has her cake and eat it to – a Lady who gives the players out there a run for their money! On the contrary, "Thank You" deals with a Lady on the opposite side of the coin, more feminine and certainly no player! Perhaps there are Ray Parker Jr influences on these, I can get a feel for his clever lyricism certainly. I really love "Love Brought Me Home (Cause Pimpin Ain’t Easy)" with its mid 80s slow funk feel. It is a strong track with quirky keyboards and is a veiled swipe at the ‘player’ culture and all that it attracts. More midtempo soul flavours adorn the CD on "Love Is What You Need" with its guitar / synth intro and the excellent "Give My Heart To You" which has a funky, lazy back beat, wah wah guitar and piano. Another song I hit the repeat button for is "She Gave Up On Love" which has a slight Southern soul feel to the vocal arrangement. Fans of classy modern REAL soul, and fans of the independent scene will lap up this CD, and I cannot recommend it enough. Enough contenders for quality time here, I think.

GERALD McCLENDON – Choose Love (US Do-Rae Productions, 1999)

I’m A Man – Choose Love – I’m Loving You – Your Love – Can’t Stop This – Come Alone – Round And Round – Just Ain’t Right – Tell Me – Stop This Madness

I stumbled across Gerald McClendon on the CD Street website and after reading his impressive write-up I decided to take a listen to this album – unfortunately there was but one measly short sound sample of a track called "Choose Love" but what I heard blew my socks off! This was such a quality SOUL song that we were once familiar with in the days before the lunatics in the record industry took over the asylum! I immediately contacted Gerald and obtained a copy of his CD, not knowing what to expect from the man. He has been an opening act for The Temptations, has worked in clubs and on a cruise ship and has performed worldwide. His passions are for soul and Motown and any hit he can render upon request when performing.
Of the CD then … this is no cabaret or tribute CD, as I may have feared. It is one of the most impressive independent releases I have heard this year and Gerald has held true to his passion in music by delivering first class SOUL music with, dare I use that obnoxious phrase, "old school" (shudder!) sensibilities. Why on earth had I not heard this glorious CD before? Where has it been hiding for all these years?
Thankfully I now own a copy and have been basking in its magnificence ever since. I hear so much quality and style in these songs and I get plenty of Motown flavours, amongst others, within his vocal range. Overall, I would best compare Gerald to the much missed and mega-talented Vince Ebo and the quality of his tunes also reflect back to Vince’s tracks sush as "Love Is The Better Way" or "Just 2 B With U". I also hear the slick, precise resonance of Smokey Robinson on "Round And Round" with a dash of Billy Griffin, a twist of Hudson Young and a healthy sprinkling of Lenny Williams and the gaiety of Ronnie McNeir's arrangements on tracks such as "Your Love".
This CD is so good that Expansion should be on top of this – although, to be honest, I am greedy and want them to licence everything up! This is a CD to put on and leave on though my clear winners are as follows. The title song I have already mentioned is simply amazing and is a classy downtempo positive message for the heart and the head. On "I’m Loving You" there is an irresistible groove spiced with a fine keyboard arrangement, not to mention the backing vocals. I definitely hear the vibe of Ronnie McNeir in "Your Love" and the vocals have a hint of Gerald Alston at times. I think its fair to say that whilst Gerald has definitely his own voice his passion and love of soul music shines through with his versatile vocals.
I am also keen on the uptempo groove of "Can’t Stop This" which is another winner, as is the easy flowing mellow funk of "Come Alone". I am reminded of Hudson Young’s 1994 single "It Could Be A While" with this, especially in how the vocals are paced. My second killer bar the title song is the magnificent "Round And Round" – this is QUALITY soul and needs to be recognised as such. Smokey is definitely influencing the man on this slab of soul brillance – I draw parity with the vocal inflections of "Feelings Flowing" from Smokey’s last set – yes it really is that good!
Gerald Alston springs to mind with the finale "Stop The Madness" and ends this short yet extremely sweet CD on a socio-political note. Although this slipped out unnoticed by this scribe in 1999 this easily compares with anything released or reviewed today in 2003. Please visit and give "Choose Love" a listen. You will not regret purchasing this CD.

UNIFIED TRIBE – Mixed Messages (US Magic Muzic, 2003)
Take It All – Let Me Go Down – I Need (Boodeedaa) – The Look Of Love – Heartbeat – New Groove – Bounce – Gotta Do Wrong – Last Night – Don’t Be Afraid – Love Destiny – Let’s Kick Some Ass – Curiosity – Fight – I’m Coming Home
Thanks again to Richard Searling and his essential "Soul Sauce" show for alerting us to this GEM. Unified Tribe are a mega-talented and versatile band of performers who have been kicking up a storm in their homeland of Texas, and were, believe it or not, made big here in the UK. England were quick to pick up on this super, super group and they have become very popular among soul acolytes. The band comprise a whopping great 14 members: Magic (lead vocals, background vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums), Harmony (lead vocals, rap, keyboard, mandolin, violin and keyboard) Starr (vocals, bass, percussion, didgeridoo), Kal-El (trombone, guitar, bass, background vocals, kalimba), Falcon (background vocals, rap), Merrily (lead vocals, background vocals, keyboard), Mariah (aka Baby) (lead vocals, background vocals, rap, guitar and my favourite!), Zen (drums), Seth (guitar, bass, trumpet), Liberty (flute, sax, keyboards, backing vocals), Kara (flute, backing vocals), Hammer (drums), Larry (guitar, backgrounds) and special guest DLS (rap and backing vocals). Phew!
Magic should already be a familiar name to you. He has worked with a number of our favourites including The Whispers, George Duke and Maurice White. In fact, my favourite songs from the Whispers’ "Toast To The Ladies" CD were written by Magic – "Whisperin’", "Crowd Of One" and "Make Sweet Love To Me" amongst others, so you know that this album is going to have its fair share of quality songs!
This talented collaboration have produced this, their second album, a wonderfully diverse, vibrant, dynamic album that inspires me to want to see them live in performance – and I hope we will see them here in the UK and in Europe before too long. There is a diversity of sounds to Unified Tribe, and this is part of their mass appeal. A lot of flavours can be found woven into their musical patchwork quilt, jazz, R&B, pop, rap amongst others. For these ears there are no less than SIX songs that I love, two in particular are of the highest calibre possible and of that Mr. Searling and myself are in complete agreement.
In order of play, I start with track one that is a superb mid tempo stepper with Magic taking lead vocals over a funky and bubbly tune which is airy and expansive. I love the good old-fashioned bass guitar and the perky flute with the combined vocal talents of the group harmony as a backdrop. Great stuff: breezy, cheerful and sparkly! Track 2, "Let Me Go Down" is a very soulful, sexy groove that is very tasty but I was rather taken aback at the risqué lyrics. I wasn’t really expecting this, and I am no prude but was rather taken aback!!! That aside, a very soulful, song and the issue dealt with in a very soulful, erotic fashion. "Heartbeat" is a great midtempo featuring Starr on vocals and although there is a rap segment slap-bang in the middle, it is not in horrid style that we are bombarded with day in day out by the conglomerate majors. I mentioned The Whispers earlier and I can imagine Walter and Scotty getting their tonsils around the lovely, bright stepper, "New Groove".
Now for the 2 essential KILLERS. "Gotta Do Wrong" is an amazing slab of brassy, jazzy soul with Magic’s soulful vocals through to the perfect harmony of the backing vocalists, horns and all – and the song is NOT a love song either. The trumpet work halfway through is simply divine and adds extra spice to this tasty arrangement. It understands that some people in society are excluded, poor and live in unhappy circumstances. This is an understanding piece of social comment, and is welcome.
Our final killer cut is mouth-watering to say the very least: I have played "Last Night" over and over again; it deals with the confusion of a lover who wants to know why his Lady has turned away. This is quality soul for 2003 and rates as one of the best songs of this year. I cannot recommend this band enough and I suggest you visit their website, drop them a few lines and support them with the purchase of this excellent CD. It is available from, CD Baby and CD Street. Highly recommended.

FRANK MCCOMB – The Truth (UK Expansion, 2003)

Shine – Whatcha Gonna Do – Never Letting Go – Do You Remember Love – Fools – When You Call My Name – Actions Speak Louder Than Words – Cupid’s Arrow – Better Off Without You – Intimate Time – Shine (Bonus Mix)

This is Frank McComb’s fourth album to date – but only the second legally issued. Those of us who are already proud owners of "Love Stories" or even the "Motown Sessions" CDR will have no second thoughts in rushing out, or logging on, to order this gleaming nugget of a CD. I have long since been sold on this album from the healthy exposure on Jazz FM and others so I feel somewhat belated in reviewing this now!
The Truth is an exquisitely conceived, recorded, produced and delivered set of quality soul/jazz for 2003. Of course we can associate the vocals to Donny and Stevie but I believe that under the guiding hand of our dear friend Steve Harvey, Frank is finding his own niche. I listen to tracks such as "Shine" and the nuances and inflections are slightly different to what he has produced before. It is no doubt that Frank is one of the real jewels in the modern soul music crown and has to be one of the most sorely underrated talents to boot. A warm round of applause to Expansion for their belief in the man and a big, wet raspberry to Motown and Columbia for not believing in, or having any real time for the gentleman.
I will lay my cards down on the table about this album, though, and admit that although this CD really is one of this year’s best I personally don’t rate it as highly as his previous albums. I really mean no offence to either Frank or Steve but I don’t hear anything that matches the emotional intensity of "More Than Friends" or "The Wedding Song". When I realised the enormity of these particular songs, especially the former I was brought to tears.
However, this CD is more gutsy, rootsy and funky and this is what is so appealing about it and makes it stand apart from his previous material. I am whisked back to Donnie’s "The Colored Section" album when I hear this, and that was one glorious CD! I love the whole album, but the downtempo songs win hands down as they usually do for me. "Never Letting Go" is the cream of the crop, "Actions Speak Louder Than Words", the beautiful "Cupid’s Arrow" and "Better Off Without You" are just excellent and will disappoint no one. This album just reconfirms what I have said all along: 2003 is a classic year and has seen some of the most glorious soul and jazz music coming to the fore.
"The Truth" is a healthy inclusion into this year’s winners’ circle – it is, like the rest of his albums, one that you will cherish for the rest of your days. Frank and Steve prove again that they are true masters and I hope that this album does splendidly well and that we get ‘the Malibu sessions part 2’ in the very near future! Essential, unbelievable, classic and available in the UK!

SKIP MARTIN – From The Heart (US Sound Success, 2003)

You Send Me – Mickey’s Heart – Wherever You Go – Careless Whisper – Call Me Crazy – The Only Woman – Tell Me Where You Want It – Alone Tonight – 50 Roses – Stay
Skip Martin is one of my favourite male vocalists – whether he is fronting the Dazz Band or Kool And The Gang, he always delivers the goods for me – so I admit that from word go I am simply biased! This guy could recite the telephone directory and I would be pleased with it! On that basis, then, you will not be surprised to discover that I love this album of mixed tempos, passionate vocals (what else?!) and lyrics dedicated to love and romance.
This CD offers you the opportunity to drop the laser down on any track for any mood you are in at the time. You want to nod your head to some funky beats, then go ahead – you want to relax and get into a romantic mood then its all there. Skip blends in his wonderful voice with his trumpet and together with the quality 2003 arrangements makes this a very listenable, enjoyable and must-have album for lovers of quality soul in 2003.
Those of you who love the new Johnson & Branson CD, or even the Zapp, will be very impressed with this album that although is modern certainly nods its head to the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s. Needless to say I can hear plenty of Dazz Band in this album, and although the last Dazz effort was extremely worthwhile, this easily overtakes the set in every respect. Skip really should be proud of his efforts here!
Out of all 10 tracks there is only minor setback for me and that is the cover version of "Careless Whisper". Even though this is a very worthy version I still think that George Michael is the only person who can do justice to the record – its his and I have yet to hear a version that can even scratch it. That aside we have NINE magnificent tracks to get our teeth into. The CD blasts off into funkiness with "You Send Me" which is his own song and not the Sam Cooke classic, this midtempo trumpet-filled jogger is a perfect vehicle for Skip’s classy vocals as so is "Mickey’s Heart" which is full of Horns and fine female vocals courtesy of a Lady called Veronica Morton.
"Wherever You Go" is more lowdown, with Hammond riffs, rumbling bassline and toe-tapping beats and Skip’s imploring vocals weaving their magic. For funkier heads I suggest the KILLER brassy stepper "Call Me Crazy" which straight out the songbook of Dazz circa "Here We Go Again" but better! Lovers of the dancefloor scene should appreciate this kind of hip, cool jazzy funk groove that can only be described as EXPLOSIVE!
The beat shifts down a gear for the brassy "The Only Woman" which reminds me of the sort of classy midtempo material that the man worked on with Kool & The Gang’s "Sweat" album back in 1989. Impromp2 actually spring to mind with the ethereal "Tell Me Where You Want It" which is one of my favourite songs – the horns sparking the memories of Reggie Bias and the EW&F Horns.
This appetite wetter is a perfect morsel for more uptempo tastes such as the synth infused "Alone Tonight" which is on par with the aforementioned dancers. Skip, though, for my money has left the very best til last. The man always has created the most powerful and romantic ballads – look at any of his Motown output in the early / mid1980s and no further proof be needed. "50 Roses" is an extraordinarily funky midtempo beat ballad in a most subtle way – I can hear echoes of Midnight Star a la "Work It Out" in the music and melody and as such I can’t rate this enough.
Even saying that, the capping stone of the entire CD is the KILLER ballad, "Stay" which is just what I really expect from Skip: this is where the man’s best recordings can be found, in the love groove. This song has Skip’s ample vocal ability rather reigned in, but is instead smooth as silk, caressing a sexy groove complete with female backing vocals and superb Kenny G styled sax. What a phenomenal song capping off what is in my opinion a very strong CD – and an album that could be destined to hide away in Cyberspace forever and a day unnoticed.
This CD is available directly from the gentleman at Why not drop him an email at the same time and say "hi"? DO NOT OVERLOOK.

LUTHER VANDROSS – Dance With My Father (US J Records, 2003)
If I Didn’t Know Better – Think About You – If It Ain’tr One Thing – Buy Me A Rose – The Closer I Get To You – Lovely Day – Dance With My Father – She Saw You – Apologize – Hit It Again – Right In The Middle – Once Were Lovers – Lovely Day Pt II – They Said You Needed Me

This album is released under very sad circumstances. The good news about Luther’s improving condition is most wonderful news and I, as all who love the man, wish him a speedy and full recovery. That aside I may sound very cynical when I say this, but I feel this is true: many are praising this set highly and showering it with adulation for what I believe are all the wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I am as proud as punch that the album is a number one pop hit in the US, but I believe that it is only through the man’s circumstances that many in the industry have rallied to his cause. Sorry if I sound negative but I am taking the album on its own merits and not allowing outside circumstances to colour or embellish my opinions about the CD as it is. As a reviewer I strive to paint an accurate portrait of an album’s contents as I can so that you the reader can be motivated to take a listen to the CD yourselves.
On this basis I believe that although this CD has some very sparkly moments this is in fact a slightly substandard Luther effort and pales against his essential 2001 self titled set. I can still say in the same breath that this is a must have album also.
We are treated to some classic Vandross moments in the form of "If I Didn’t Know Better", the AWESOME "Think About You", "Apologise", and "They Said You Needed Me". These are typical quality ballads that only Luther can deliver and these are self-produced too. We are also treated to a GORGEOUS rendition of the popular "The Closer I Get To You" which features youngster Beyonce Knowles. I was ready to quickly skip tracks but Luther, Beyonce and producer Nat Adderley Jr have created a real masterpiece moment for this CD and I was totally blown away by the talent of Beyonce who shows great vocal maturity in the vein of Tamia on her first Qwest set. I have yet to hear anything of this standard or anything remotely close from her debut CD. This just shows that in an adult arena these young artists really can cut the mustard when handled with care, expertise and talented, experienced producers. String laden and fully orchestrated in traditional and classic Vandross style this could be straight from "The Night I Fell In Love".
Do not miss this, and another to cherish is the AWESOME title track. I have not heard so powerful and personal a song in many a year if at all. How Luther managed to sing this without breaking down I really do not know. I sat here and blubbed away myself – what sad, sad, yet beautiful lyrics. This song is a very important one for Luther and has been received warmly by many, many others who can empathise with the material. This deserves to be a number one hit and Luther can be justifiably proud of writing such a poignant and heart-on-his-sleeve song.
As far as uptempo material goes, the only one of note is the funky street-edged "She Saw You" which is absolutely riveting once it gets apace. As for the rest of the album...well. What can I really say? Again, a quality established soul artist resorts to working with nursery rhyme artists in the form of Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifa and Foxy Brown. This is such a crying shame. The Isley Brothers have stooped to this recently, too. I guess that in this current climate to be successful you have to sacrifice something in order for the MTV generation and the youth orientated market to pay any heed at all. This is not at all to my liking and is an insult to the intelligence of fans of Luther Vandross who appreciate not only him but real, proper black music and its history. Artists like Luther and Ron Isley should not waste their time with these individuals. Lets face it – soul lovers and connoiseurs won’t be intersted, and so-called rude girls / boys with posters of Busta, Tupac, 50 Cent and God-knows who else pinned up on their bedroom walls won’t be interested either. No-one wins here. Why bother?! My suggestion to these classic talented artists is PLEASE leave the residuum of the "R&B" / Hip-Hop / Rap / MTV-Base domains well enough alone and instead work with classier, TALENTED artists such as Lisa Fischer etc. That aside, some very good moments and a few real gems. Do not overlook this set, even though it is not his best.

MILES JAYE – Humanity (US Black Tree, 2003)

Humanity – No More Mr. Nice Guy – Sweet Honey, Sweet Cream – Promise Me – Should Have Been Strong – Love Affair – Objective – Irresistible – Kiss The Bed – Forget About The Other Night – I Cry For You – The Kissing Song – New York

Miles Jaye can always be relied upon to have a very healthy mix of ballads and uptempo grooves on his albums. There is not an album of his that I can’t recommend. My favourite has to be 1989’s "Irresistible" for Island Records – an album so soulful that it hurt, and remains to be equalled or bettered by the man to this day. This album goes some way towards reaching the bar that "Irresistible" created but it has to be argued that it falls short of the mark.
I have to say, though, that this is still one of his better efforts and easily surpasses "The Odyssey" for quality and content. "Should Have Been Strong" is already a headline tune on the quality soul scene and has been trumped on the latest Café De Soul compilation – so there will be very few unfamiliar with that KILLER stepper. As for the other songs – we have a brisk mix of midtempo steppers and sexy floaters, as well as some flotsam and jetsam in between. The first three cuts, "Humanity", "No More Mr. Nice Guy", "Sweet Honey, Sweet Cream" are excellent midtempo songs that only Miles can do best, the funky back beats and arrangements are complimented by some fine acoustic guitar moments.
That said, they are spoiled in places by some additional electric guitar that is expertly played, but becomes rather monotonous and thus results in sounding like a frustrated wasp in a jam jar. That aside, jolly good tracks one and all; once you get used to the guitar it really doesn’t have that much of an impact on your ears or attention.
The ballads take control from "Love Affair" and – yes - the guitar cum wasp in a jam jar make more appearances but rather complements the beats and the very strong and soulful vocals. "Objective" and "Irresistible" are excellent reinterpretations of classic outings from his aforementioned 1989 set. The KILLER ballad for me has to be the super-fine "Forget About The Other Night" which harks straight back to his best ballads such as "Message" and "I’ll Be There" from 1989. This really is a beautiful beat ballad in the best Miles Jaye vein, complete with an impassioned end monologue, and the trusty guitar is present but adds a special element to the melody, but perhaps goes on a tiny bit too long during the bridge of the record.
I heartily recommend this album as being his best for years, but if you really don’t like electric guitar (as many soulies don’t) then this may put you off. I’m fine with this myself but if the guitar angle bothers you, I would recommend a hearing first on CD Baby or on Miles’ own website. Otherwise this is to be enjoyed while the weather is hot!

TASHAN – Life Goez On (Power Kingdom, 2003)

Intro – If You Were Mine – After Hours – First I Wanna – Gonna Be Gentle – Cherish – Me For You – Interlude – This Could Be – Because Of You – Life Goez On – Right Attitude – Outta My Mind – God Is The Only

Tashan joins the ever growing list of QUALITY soul and jazz artists, old and new, who have been tossed aside by the Major Record companies (the conglomerate, I call them) and has had the guts, the courage and takes the risk of doing things on his own. Today’s soul music is more and more about the little label; the David and Goliath struggle, the Internet and word of mouth. This is why we must search for, discover and acknowledge our heroes and support them in their endeavours for if the fan base doesn’t whom on earth will? It’s serious this issue and I can’t state it enough. As the big guys get bigger the music we love gets rarer. Tashan, after a long time fighting hard to be heard and being ignored has done the best thing he can do and set up Power Kingdom records as a medium for his efforts. Thank God for it, too. I was thrilled to bits with this album – classic Tashan and every track is crammed full with his distinctive bassline backing, his painfully soulful and searching vocals.
Those of you who bought the latest Café De Soul compilation will be aware of the enormously soulful dancer, "After Hours" – a song that has been warmly welcomed by the soul community especially here in the UK and Europe. Simply put, if you love that track then you will love this CD and if you are NOT familiar with the song but are a fan of the man anyway, then just go buy it. I fell in love with this album straight away – "If You Were Mine" is classic Tashan and comes complete with a subtle rhythm and eerie synth. Very simple, but very devastating on the ears. Excellent.
Although all cuts are good I have my favourites (including the aforementioned two). "Gonna Be Gentle" creates a sexy atmosphere and the lazy rhythm suits it nicely. In the same vein as "If You Were Mine" is the downtempo "Cherish" with its acoustic guitar, strings and hammond organ flourish. The midtempo dirty-basslined "Me For You" grabs your gut and wheedles its way into your head – you will not be able to resist the irresistibility of this rhythm. I can say the same for "This Could Be" with its freaky distorted strings effect and meaty, bassy, punchy backdrop. Very early 90s, is this and would fit snugly beside Kleeer, Loni Clark or even Opaz. If you want out and out uptempo heaven then look no further that "Because Of You" with its catchy keyboard riffs and 808-drum clap beat. My final jewel in the crown is the deceptively jazzy cum 70s funk stomper, "Life Goez On".
Believe me folks, you can’t be without this album. I know there is a lot of quality material out there and when funds are tight one must has to make choices. Choose this! Much respect for a real gentleman of soul who’s music is both his art and his life. Being true to the music and yourself is important and this CD is as much a statement of the times as it about the man or the music. A Must have.
You can pick this up from Tashan's website, Soul Brother and One Way Records, Manchester amongst others.

Packed & Waitin' (Soul Japan, 2003)
1) So Fine (2003 Dance Mix) 2) Still In Love With You 3) Love It Like You Do 4) Say You Will 5) Hang Around Me 6) It Really Doesn't Matter 7) You'll Never Need (featuring Portia Griffin) 8) Just A Chance 9) King Of Fools 10) Every Little Thing 11) Mystical Persuasion 12) Freaknight On A Weeknight
1989 saw their first joint album released and featured the gorgeous ballads All My Love and the Leon Ware-ish Midnight Lady. So, as a BIG fan of both men via their solo efforts such as "Keeping Love New" etc (Johnson) and "Indian Summer" (Branson with Najee) I salivated at the idea of these two vocal giants back together again in 2003. What we have here is an unadulterated SOUL album with its feet firmly in an 80s groove with a 21st Century edge, and lush ballads that really cut the mustard. Well crafted and executed, "Packed & Waitin'" has no fillers and nothing weak - this is very much a 'put it on and leave it on' job! Basically, if you love their old material then just buy this CD blind. Those who fear a nasty and unnecessary remake of "So Fine" need not worry - this updated version still nods its head to the superior dance sound of the mid 1980s but has that rough edge that so characterises the sound of 2003.
Similarly, the exciting "Still In Love With You" utilises the freaky keyboards and instrumentation we would not expect to hear in today's stripped down, sampled and minimalist music. "Love It Like You Do" and "Say You Will" are exquisite midtempo offerings, the latter laced with a dream bassline in the vein of Mary Jane Girls' "All Nigh Long" and Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness" keyboard riff - so one for the beach again, folks! The breezy "Hang Around Me" is really fresh and showcases Howard Johnson perfectly - the light backdrop not drowning out his unique vocals one iota.
A KILLER track comes in the form of "It Really Doesn't Matter" which has a guitar and keyboard so reminiscent of Leon Ware - and vocally Regis is a dead ringer for dear old Luther! Not surprising as Regis has at least one song from his pen on Luther's upcoming CD for J records at the tail end of 2003! And THAT is tasty, too folks, believe me! A talented singer called Portia Griffin 'duets' with Howard on the ballad "You'll Never Need" - I hope there will be a set from her on its way before too long.
Furthermore, "Just A Chance" lifts the tempo and the mood and jumps back into the classic 80s groove yet again - a decade that is criminally ignored. If "It Doesn't Really Matter" wasn't killer enough, check the chunky floater "King Of Fools" which is such a STRONG record complete with bassline and fender rhodes. Regis Branson is allowed control over this song and shows that he really can deliver the goods big time! Following the cheerful dancer, "Every Little Thing" comes the gentle "Mystical Persuasion" which will be spun on my hi-fi rather regularly I can tell you.
The closing song isn't the best uptempo cut here, but is a fairly decent closing song for a well balanced album of groove, seduction, rough and smooth vocals and that magic ingredient…Soul! A label to watch out for…a new album from Portrait coming soon!

RAY, GOODMAN & BROWN – Intimate Moments (Orpheus, 2002)

Stay – Rockin’ You Tonight – Give Me All Your Love – Girl I Want To Be The One – Someon’s Missing Your Love – This Is The Last Time – I’ve Been Good To You – Long Gone – My Shining Star – Deeper And Deeper – Girls – When The Party’s Over – Drive Me Crazy – Any Kind Of Love – We Fall Down

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from these chaps after a gap of 15 years and the tragic loss of the angelic-voiced Harry Ray. With much joy, though, I can report that this is indeed a most pleasing album that is predominantly ballad-orientated but with a few nasty rap cuts thrown in for some obscure reason. Some songs on here have obviously been recorded a few years ago so there is a definite early 90s quality feel to the songs but the rest is definitely recently recorded. All songs feature the return of Mr. Kevin Owens and this is very welcome indeed. One of the brand spanking new recordings is the Billy Sheppard-produced KILLER opening song, "Stay" which is constantly on repeat mode in this house. This is exactly the quality of material that established groups such as this ought to be doing today. The Temptations please take note!
There are a few cover versions on here – the majority of them very good indeed – take Gary’s "Rockin’ You Tonight" and James Ingram’s "Any Kind Of Love" as winners and the awful rap rehash of "Girls" as a loser.
In fact, "Any Kind Of Love" is really a superb effort and is more an exquisite interpretation than a straight cover. This I like, as I adored the Thom Bell original so this is a step to the left and not an attempt to better it. Quite excellent.
The clear Rhani Song (Kingdom) productions of "Give Me Your Love" and "This Is The Last Time" are other firm favourites and are examples of a first rate modern vocal group effort for 2003. The mega-talented Marion Meadows appears on "Girl I Want To Be The One" and Najee adds his sax to this CD on the gorgeous "Someone’s Missing You" each artist instantly recognisable and upfront reminding us how well soul and jazz can merge into one superior sound.
Blue Magic’s Ted Mills adds his production skills to the lovely ballad "Long Gone" which is very good indeed, and Billy Sheppard returns from "Stay" and works his magic on the falsetto-led killer "My Shining Star", making this album a top-drawer all round and worthwhile purchase. Please do not overlook this album as it marks a very healthy return for one of the greatest soul vocal groups of all time.

Archives of 2002-2003 Reviews

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