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Soul Express CD Review

U-NAM: – The Past Builds The Future
(UK Café De Soul, 2005)
Loves’s Taken Over – Blue Mood – Right Here, Right Now – I’m Only U-Nam – Ca Le Faire – Take Da Time – French Flavor – My Inspiration – ‘Cos I Do – Strike First – Higher – Soul Cantine – L.A. Party – Groovin’ Paris

I can sum many albums up in one word. Mostly that word is not printable, but this is one CD that I can happily sum up in one word. SUPERB.

I had heard a few tracks from this set on the great Richard Searling’s show, Soul Sauce, and could not wait to get my grubby little hands on this. Now I have the CD in the same grubby paws I can honestly report that it far exceeds even my high hopes. With guest stars aplenty and a fresh, groovy approach this CD really is a no nonsense, no risk disc. I love the sheer party funk, the groovy, driving jazz mixed up with a healthy dose of soul, poetry and rap. So, as you can see, this is one healthy, strong and eclectic mix that should definitely be included in my listing of albums of 2005.

The soul heads will love the opening salvo that is “Love’s Taken Over” which sees soul hero Rahsaan Patterson on vocal chores. I am not talking wimpy backing oohs and ahs here as with most turgid Smooth Jazz sets, but here we have a full scale, tour de force soul stepper equal to anything on his last, essential set, “After Hours”. The warm Rhodes, jazzy guitar blend perfectly with the chunky boogie groove and the song is surely fitting for a Soul Togetherness gig. I would say that the CD was a safe bet on the strength of this alone, but luckily it is not the case.

A lovely vocal cut follows featuring the smooth charms of Leedia who flows over a very soulful and funky joint that sounds like it came straight from the pen of Paul Brown from the late 1990s. Superb sax courtesy of Gary Meek, too! “Right Here, Right Now” is one we should all know from the excellent Café De Soul 5 and features the MONSTER talent of Phil Perry. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this song then I would suggest it was a rather cheeky number that has many fantastic elements, especially as the smoother side of Mr. Perry is allowed to suddenly rip up a real storm and the song switches from a cool, smooth vocal track to a funky, wah-wah filled nodder with Phil giving 1000% of a performance. U-Nam really has got his head screwed on straight, and what he gives us is really food for the soul.

The next dish is instrumental and regular readers will know my tastes apropos instrumentals are concerned. Well, U-Nam can get to grips with these and puts many of the US artists to shame with these fresh, funky and innovative arrangements. “I’m Only U-Nam”, “Ca Va Le Faire!”, Strike First”, “Soul Cantine”, “L.A. Party” and the superb “Groovin’ Paris” featuring Jeff Lorber are excellent examples of the genre. “French Flavor” has a great scat and one for the open road. It also has the ghost of Nuyorican Soul a la George Benson’s “You Can Do It Baby”. Superb!

For me there is a very important and well timed inclusion on this CD called “Take Da Time” which is a serious piece of astute social commentary by none other than Abiodun from the legendary Last Poets. Not only is this song superb from a musical angle, the issues eloquently put into words by Abiodun are spot on and I take my hat off to Abiodun, Will Roberson and U-Nam for a brilliant piece of socio-political observation. No other song, even the plausible attempt by Gerald Levert to address this has even the capacity to scratch what this song is conveying. My only criticism is that this is not the future; it was yesterday and is today too. A one man standing ovation from me, fellas. I think these guys have been visiting or It certainly sounds like it to me.

Moving away from grim reality we come back to matters of the heart with the superb male vocalist, Nyr, with the Stevie Wonder inspired “My Inspiration”. If I did not know any better I would say that this was one of Norman Brown’s best ever songs. You know I hate rap, but I did used to buy quite a bit years ago before it got plain nasty and negative. The group Stetsasonic really delivered the goods with Daddy O at the helm, and Daddy O teams up with Riverside Drive to deliver a fantastic stepper that really does get into the old grey matter. The flute courtesy of Bobby Rangell and the great backing vocals really work well and even the rap sounds great on this groove.

I am so, so impressed with this album and cannot stop playing it. After a period of relatively featureless CDs being released amongst the usual ever-streaming R&B sewer there is a deluge of essential sets for your collection. “The Past Is The Future” definitely is one of these sets and it is great to see a younger artist not only acknowledging the past but also being respectful to the present and mindful of the future. Expect a lot more from this gentleman.
- Barry Towler

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