Thursday, 30 December 2010

In Appreciation Of .... Lewis Taylor

The wonderful Mr Taylor came into my life in 1996 following some great reviews of his debut solo album citing Marvin Gaye, Neo soul, layered harmonies, etc etc.  How would I resist such praise.  The debut self titled album is a set to be worked at but once you hook into the sounds and the feel that this guy produces (much of it with him playing everything) it is sublime. "Lucky" the lead track and released as a single is a good intro but by the time you get to "Bittersweet" with it's slow build and then the breakout Marvin vocal change it's bloody marvellous. 

I love albums that grow from interesting to irresistable and this one is in that catagory. He received a lot of high profile praise from Jools Holland, Elton, Paul Weller and the like together with the music press but I think a white north London guy (and not another pretty teen type but a seasoned musican) singing his own take on harmonies that have a strong nod to black America as much as the Beach Boys and Flying Burritto's - with some added amazing guitar - Island were confused and didn't know how to promote him.  He lost ground and by the time his second "Lewis II" arrived, again different - more introspective, more song based and easing up on the production pedal - they gave up, dropping him later that year.

He resurfaced with his own label, Slow Reality, and released "Stoned" ironically a step forward artistically and commercially, more accessible and potentially what Island would have wanted. Again back to acclaim and a following both via the web and through a few live performances. I saw him at a packed Jazz Cafe in London and was blown away.

"Stoned Part 2" followed with new songs and some reworkings from it's counterpart suggesting the guy is a perfectionist. Later a "Lost Album" appeared with yet more versions of those songs with a more rock bias than soul. All the above are recommended. He gave up his career in 2006 and is still considered by many to be a great loss to the music scene.
He had a song covered by Robbie Williams from which I hope he gets a decent royalty cheque every now and then. I play his albums a lot and often think he would be great in the production seat for various artists.

I recommend you seek out his albums.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

You Been Playing My Records? (Diner - 1982)

I know how he feels - not about the filing but about knowing what was playing at certain points in your life.

Chuck Jackson - I Only Get This Feeling/Slowly But Surely (1973)

A great soul track from the veteran soul singer Chuck Jackson whose career still runs today and has travelled through Wand Records; duets with Maxine Brown; a stint at Motown.  I had this on a single and loved it together with the B side - unavailable on CD to my knowledge.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

That Was My 2010

As we head into 2011 I thought I would share a few of my own music related highlights of 2010.

Firstly Surprise Of The Year goes to the John Legend And The Roots Album for reasons I have stated already on these pages; Dissappointment? - the Rumer Album - I thought "Slow" was a real head turner of a record but all the hype led to yet another drab dinner party album with little to celebrate other than it is quality but not very interesting - having seen a couple of TV performances and had reports from friends of gigs - Rumer needs some personality added to that glorious voice.

I don't get Arcade Fire - despite them being flavour of the year in most polls - it just doesn't move me (although "Rebellion" is one of my favourite tracks from recent years).  I love the "Strickland Banks" album from Plan B - I hope to go to the gigs in March 2011. "The Element of Freedom" from Alicia Keys. Not so mad on the latest Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - again it has nothing new to offer - yes it's good and authentic soul but I can go back to the originals of the genre in preference.  I love "The Lady Killer" by Cee- Lo Green but was let down by the second Cherry Ghost album.  Diane Birch is one to watch as "Bible Belt" works for me; I've followed Eli Paperboy Reed with interest as he writes and performs new soul pop songs with his own swagger attached;  Amazed at Mavis Staples, at 70, turning out "You Are Not Alone". I got the two Open Souls albums from New Zealand which are mixed but the high points outweigh the less so and are well worth seeking out.  I have ended the year with a mixed bunch of presents of music in the shape of Kanye's latest, Roy Ayers (1979); Springsteen's "The Promise"; Basie/Sinatra "At The Sands"; a return to UB40's roots with a new copy of "Signing Off" and,of course "Soul Alive!" from Solomon Burke.

Gigs this year have been few on the ground with a Union Chapel Peter Green gig which displayed him as part brilliant part "not quite his former self" mode (think Brian Wilson on the first solo tour a few years ago); Supertarmp at the O2 - my comments werte not well received by the Hodgson faithful but I thought it was a great show - pity everyone wants to take sides; Again the Legend/Roots gig is top of my list but probably shared with the final Simply Red gig in December. Alicia Keys in February - high on a list of wonderful performances.  I hope to get out a bit more in 2011.

Lost But Not Forgotten
The sad passing of Solomon Burke - he of great soul legend. I was introduced properly to him via Peter Garulnick's invaluable southern soul history "Sweet Soul Music"; saw him live at the Barbican in 2008 and have slowly collected much of his catalogue and newer albums as a result. Marvel at the Later version of "Don't Give Up On Me" on YouTube - there was more to come and he will be missed. Also lost is Harvey Fuqua - someone who has contributed so much but not been centre stage.

Guilty Pleasure - the X-Factor 2010

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Simply Red Are No More

Back around 1986 a new band started a career with "Money's Too Tight To Mention" - the band were credible, lauded by the then (as now) cynical music press, the songwriter had been in a punk band having attended an early Pistols gig in Manchester.  He was red haired, claimed to have been an outcast but was determined to make it in music as this was his passion.  Isn't that how our musical heroes should be.  Further evidence of this solid foundation (in an artistic sense) was that his next single was self written in his early teens, related to his lack of a mother who deserted him when he was very young. "Holding Back The Years" was a song to be admired and the world acknowledged that here was a songwriter to be watched.

The album "Picture Book" brought a lot more with nods to jazz, soul and pop. What a future.  On "Men and Women" the "difficult" second album he delivered again but upped the ante, acknowledging the past (Cole Porter's "Evr'y Time We Say Goodbye")  political comment - on Thatcher in particular; worked with Lamont Dozier; even covered Sly Stone's "Let Me Have It All" making it his own. 

I don't need to run through his career but I feel that it is easy to forget that Mick Hucknall is one of the British Greats with a pedigree to be reckoned with - not just measured in sales figues or bums on seats at vast halls around the world.  We should acknowledge that this guy has delivered a body of work second to none over the past 25 years.  Great influences, a foundation of musical knowledge, always with great musicians.  He does have the record sales and not just at home.  He is mocked due to the excesses of the eighties but that will pass - just as we now acknowledge the 70's as a watershed decade for music where we once rubbished it for glitter, flares, afros and disco.

We love to pull our successes apart in this country - 'we build em up only to pull em down' as they say.

In the eighties during the rise of SR I missed out on some tickets for the first large (Wembley Arena) London gigs.  I am a fan of the band and whilst that interest has palled of late due to my (and probably Mick Hucknall's) musical tastes developing to other things, I regularly play those first 5 albums (important: not just the odd track- but whole sets as they were intended).  With all of this in mind I have attended two gigs on the farewell tour (although 11 months apart) including last week's Final Show at the O2.

There are many reviews posted which reflect the quality of that gig by far better reviewers than I.  All I can say is I thought it was amazing with no low points for me.  A great gig - yes to the faithful but what a way to go.  Apt that a solo start to "Holding..." was the last song of the night/tour/band but it was delivered with that wonderful voice sounding as good as it did 25 years ago

a great song, a great voice and a great band - I'm fortunate to have been there.

Friday, 3 December 2010

John Legend & The Roots - London

A number of reviews of last Saturday's John Legend & the Roots gig at Hammersmith have asked what motivated the audience to attend;  To see John Legend singing his soulful love songs; to have a rare sight of the Roots excellent full on rap meets rock meets ......whatever? or as in my case to hear those songs, the ones that i grew up with, that despite the fact that i had no way of identifying with the struggle they represented became very prescient to me - even part of my education. 

The gig was the only way of seeing this combination in London playing their excellent covers album of civil rights songs from the 60's and 70's.  We've all heard some of these or at least some others with the same sentiments played by other artists not quite so up to the task.  Both acts here are known for music with much integrity.  Both took to the road in 2008 to support Obama's run for the White House.  The resulting album recorded from that collaboration and since called "Wake Up" includes both well known songs from the era from artists like Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye and; some lesser known and rearranged titles like James Kirkland's "Hang On In There" and "Hard Times" - a track originally by Curtis Mayfield (but in a very different form here). 

So what did we get?  Firstly a stage set developed from their cartoon street corner as a backdrop complete with street light and doors from which the guys emerged both at the start and as they rotated through their set.  They arrived without announcement and launched into "Hard Times" then "Compared To What" and "Our Generation" at this point my son who I had co opted to be my gig buddy for the night turned and told me how fantastic this was,  Pause here.  Here I am 50 something and been through years of playing him this sort of stuff - my heroes, the soundtrack to my life almost - you'd expect "Dad Tunes!" but he's inherited some great taste obviously.

John Legend then took over for a couple of his big numbers including "Save Room" and Used to Love You" which were really well received (the guy next to me came to hear these and was bewildered by the "new songs").  The Roots went into "The Seed" to rapturous applause then onto a version of "Move On Up" which let's face it must have been on the original list of songs for the album.  A track from the new album followed (yet to be bought so not sure of title).

Back together on stage (for me) the momentum was lost slightly by the appearance of Estelle - great in her own right but not her pop with this high calibre soul.

Back to the album and "Wake Up Everybody" a blistering guitar driven "I Can't Write Left Handed" (which I see as a track from the Bill Withers Carnegie set but my son knows from containing the sample for "Demons" a collaboration between Fat Boy Slim and Macy Gray ( much better than it sounds).  This short song in it's original form is a full 12 or so minute epic with Hendrix or in this case should I say Isleys style guitar.

Throughout the Roots and added sidemen and girl singers were superb.  The rapping of Black Thought was clear, intelligent and rhythmic.  The drumming from ?uestlove solid and the foundation of the whole performance, the guitar (sorry don't know the name) outstanding but basically the whole bunch could do and did no wrong.

I have wished for a resurgence of these songs or at least the sentiments that drive them for a long time.  I believed that music would never be up to the challenge in the same form or to the same high standard.  The album and this spectacular performance proved me wrong and has leapt into my top 5 all time best gigs.  I fully expect this to be listed next month as one of the gigs of the year and deservedly so.  For so many reasons and all the right ones.  There is hope. Musically for Soul Dads like me and Politically no matter where you're from.  I normally always say leave it alone once you've made an album like this but the subject matter, the songbook of black America begs for a second volume and these guys have it in them to deliver again at this level.