Tag Archives: Brit Soul

88 On The Longplay: ‘Stronger Than Pride’ by Sade

Sade’s first two albums Diamond Life and Promise were both enormous successes. Their respective hits being all over the place-that former album even ending up represented on a breakfast cereal premium sticker I had growing up. It was hard to believe that the band themselves-including the regal beauty of their lead singer Sade Adu herself, were very much unlike most hit musicians of their time period. They were straight out of the same UK jazz/funk scene that had spawned Loose Ends, Incognito, Level 42 and Spandau Ballet.

Despite succeeding on a level that perhaps exceeded the best that any of their contemporaries did, Sade always kept themselves just a little bit behind their own public face. Which was almost totally related to their music. And their music videos with a strong cinematic scope and stylish live performances. They had always possessed a very distinctive quality about their music-almost to the point where they deserved a genre all their own. When this third album, and final of their first decade, arrived in 1988 I have vivid memories of Sade albums somehow being an event.

Over the years I’ve actually had to do much growing into this album-somewhat like a pair of shoes that were just a tad too big for me. “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” itself is nothing like any Sade song I’d ever heard up to that point. There is a wide, empty void in the middle of the songs rhythm-extremely subtle percussion with only a stronger little heartbeat on the choruses. With its atmospheric,ethereal keyboards and sustaining melody it very much encompasses the feeling of a humid, sensuous encounter. Maybe even a mildly distant one at that.

Of course the rhythm is entirely absent from “I Never Thought I’d See The Day”,which flows right along with its moody melody as far as it can take it. “Paradise”,”Nothing Can Come Between Us”,”Keep Looking” and the closing instrumental “Siempre Hay Esperanza” all embody this grooving, heavily stripped down funk sound that has since become most strongly associated with Sade. They are filled with heavy percussion and some of the fattest and locked down bass lines Paul S. Denman has ever thrown down. And he’s thrown down many.

“Turn My Back On You” is a particular favorite of mine-built on a strong,subtle variation of the James Brown-like bass/guitar interaction following each vocal and instrumental chorus. “Haunt Me” is a pretty Flamenco flavored Spanish guitar ballad while “Clean Heart” takes a jazzier pop mid tempo ballad cue-a bit like a more stripped bare variation of some of the music on their debut. When I first heard this album? I didn’t really understand it. Though relatively intelligent by the age of 8, this album contains more adult oriented outlooks on romance. And melodies that were somewhat harder to hum.

During my earliest years of adulthood, I rediscovered this album By that time of course having absorbed a lot of Prince, Crusaders, Miles Davis and an entire myriad of jazz/Afro/Funk hybrids. So one day I found this album on CD,with my father having had the cassette for years and listened to it-as some point near or around the summer of 2003. All of a sudden this album leaped out at me in a way that it never had before. While present this album doesn’t focus in on the horns and piano as much as the first two Sade albums.

The entire album is very much oriented around a very spare type of funk. It was a groove which emphasized Sade’s singing as well as bringing the bass/guitar accents more out front. What I didn’t realize at the time was this Sade were laying the groundwork for all the music they’ve since created on this particular. And for the most part? That hasn’t been a bad thing at all. So in the context of where this took Sade rather than in comparison to what came before,this album is a resounding,romantic and hard grooving success.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mr Magic” by Amy Winehouse

Amy Winhouse is quite possibly THE popularly successful jazz oriented female vocalist during my adult years who wasn’t strictly a balladeer.  Born to a English Jewish family, her exposure to jazz came early in life. Her mother was a singer for a time who dated UK jazz sax player Ronnie Scott. And her father sang her Frank Sinatra songs as a child. She began playing guitar and writing songs at age 14. At 20, she released her debut album Frank, a rather neo soul oriented album produced by Salaam Remi. In 2006, she took the world by storm with her Back In Black album, recorded with the Dap Kings.

Winehouse’s career was marked by a dysfunctional family and love life. And a lot of resulted drug abuse and eating disorders. Sadly, she joined the 27 club in 2011 from a culmination of her self destruction. My friend Henrique and I have talked to some level about the significance of her musical legacy-especially in regard to her breakout album Back In Black. Upon hearing her debut album however, it became clear to me just how vital her jazz/funk/soul sound was even at the start of her career. And one number that illustrates this well is called “Mr Magic”.

Winehouse starts out the song with steady jazz guitar strumming-with Remi’s drums playing an in the pocket beat right along with her strumming. Winhouse’s vocals are accompanied by Vincent Henry’s punchy sax solos. John Adam’s Fender Rhodes also provides a solo that plays the exact counterpoint to Winhouse’s main guitar rhythm. The chords on the chorus have a brighter tone to them. The bridge of the song showcases an instrumental section featuring an extended sax solo from Henry and one from Adams on Rhodes before all the horn charts fade out the song following an extended chorus.

“Mr Magic” is a great example of a song that has was written on guitar. While the instrumentation has a neo soul spareness and doesn’t feature a discernible bass line, everything is on the rhythm with this song. From Winehouse’s vocal solos to her harmonies on the chorus, she is every bit part of the instrumentation vocally as Billie Holiday was before her. The horn and Rhodes based jazz/funk sound of the song also provided a template on how she’d expand this sound later-when working with the Dap Kings several years later.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mick’s Company” by The Style Council

Michael “Mick” Talbot could be described as the man who, even prior to James Taylor, pioneered the revival of Hammond organ based soul/funk on the British musical scene. In the late 70’s, Talbot played in a trio of mod revivalist bands. The best known of them in the end would be Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Mick of course found his voice with Paul Weller as The Style Council. They embraced an often jazz laced blend of contemporary funk,soul and dance music’s. All inspired by Weller and Talbot’s mutual goal to musically shatter the myths and culture of the rock music world.

The band released their debut EP in 1983 in several countries except for the UK,                interestingly enough. The following year they released their be bop and hip-hop laced full length debut Cafe Bleu. On both these releases, a precedence was set for including Talbot composed Hammond organ based instrumentals into different sections of the albums. One of my favorites was originally featured as the B-side to the 1984 single version of the song “My Ever Changing Moods”. The name of this particular instrumental had a cute wordplay about it: “Mick’s Company”.

Talbot starts off the song playing an ultra funky riff-doubling up what sounds like a Clavinet setting on a DX-7 synthesizer-all before Hammond organ swirl breaks into the drum roll right into the song. The main theme is this Clavinet effect played with a round synth bass pumping heavy behind it. And Talbot’s bluesy organ playing a counter solo to the introductory synth riff. There are two B sections of the songs where it changes chords. And the organ solo becomes more elaborate. Talbot improvises more and more on the organ as the song processes towards its fade out.

“Mick’s Company”, perhaps the most of Mick Talbot’s organ based instrumentals with the Style Council, really epitomize a somewhat under explored instrumental funk direction for the 1980’s. It combines the bluesy song structure and organ improvising of hard bop/soul jazz, the guitar like Clavinet based sound of the 70’s and mixes both together with a mid 80’s digitized synthesizer/bass oriented approach. It really encapsulates the previous three decades of instrumental soul/funk in under 3 minutes. In the end, it helped give the Style Council their distinctive spin on funk and soul  for the 80’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove 8/22/2014: Andre’s Pick-“Love Can” by Lisa Stansfield

            As a UK understudy of Barry White,Lisa Stansfield took the late 80’s/early 90’s by storm with her strong vocalizing of the sort of orchestral soul vision that White had helped pioneer. Always creatively strong and vital,Stansfield didn’t continue the same commercial success in the US that she maintained in the UK throughout the 90’s. Her comeback’s became less frequent-culminating in a decade absence after 2004. There was in fact a three-four month waiting period between the UK and US release of her new comeback album Seven. On the other hand,the US version was released just in time for summer. And concluded with a song entitled “Love Can”.

           Opening with a percussive drum beat with a deep,thumping bass line playing the accenting the rhythm a jazzy electric piano solo comes in. This is followed by a burst of string and horn orchestration-with a flute and violin playing their own counter melody before Stansfield’s deep,rangy and resonate vocals some in. While the melody of the some seems a bit mysterious, even reflective at first,by the time the chorus arrives? The mood of the song turns excitedly aroused-both lyrically and musically as she sings of the need to be vulnerable in love. The mood of the instrumentation raised from somewhat quietly funky to enthusiastically dramatic as the song builds from beginning to end before ending with an unaccompanied violin crescendo.

            While surely extending on Stansfield’s love of the Barry White/Marvin Gaye style funk soul groove of the mid 70’s,she extends it even further on this song by employing live instrumentation. This is especially bought out when it comes to the live drumming. This presents a very different milieu than the programmed rhythms I was more used to hearing on her late 80’s/early 90’s recordings. What is most pleasing is how much she understands the funk she has continued to grow into musically. The rhythm and bass line are presented in a spare way,but she maintains her bold orchestral settings as well. Its a wonderful example of how live instrumentation,produced with eloquence,can sound in a crisp digitally recorded setting.

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Filed under Barry White, Funk, Funk Bass, Lisa Stansfield, Marvin Gaye, Rhythm, rhythm & blues

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/2/14 Andre’s Pick: “I Will” by Kenny Thomas

One of those fascinating coincidences in the history of soul and funk music is the tendency of the British music scene to fill in significant gaps when the music is experiencing a low popularity and audience in the United States. Funk oriented new wave era groups such as Level 42,Heaven 17,Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet provided this during the US post disco radio freeze out. Some maintained this style through mid decade even. Sade,Simply Red,George Michael and Soul II Soul continued this tradition later in the decade. Aside from American adoration’s such as Prince and Talking Heads,the popularity of funky soul grooves seemed to be in a strange holding pattern on this end of the pond. In the mid 1990’s onward through the post 9/11 world? This pattern came back in play-with 2006-08 being the height of this ethic. Years after his debut in 1991,English soul/funk artist Kenny Thomas emerged in 2006 with a song that showcased this impulse entitled “I Will”.

Starting off with a fan faring drum roll and a plast of joyful,gospel inspired horns the song gets started with thickly grooving mix of high stepping drums,highly melodic electric piano chords and the fantastically vital horn section providing the life force that keeps the entire song alive. With a chunky bass/guitar interactive holding the keyboard riffs all together, Kenny himself sings lyrics with the same level of joy expressed in the horn parts and melody revolving around the most optimistic outlook on newfound romance that one could possibly ask. On the refrains,the melody changes to include a few minor chords but when going back into the main theme of the song,the melody rises up into the major chord as Kenny declares “I WILL” on the chorus. His voice-a passionate cross between Teddy Pendergrass,Michael McDonald and Heatwave’s Keith Wilder,provides an almost ideal reflection of the songs overall joyousness.

From my own personal observations, the era in which this song was recorded was not among the happiest or secure time for the planet Earth, A never ending war on terror was going on,people were divided even more than they were in the 1960’s and that 90’s era cynicism prevented a great deal of action from occurring to counter this. Music was in a great need for empathy over apathy,release instead of tension. And for those who followed the music of Kenny Thomas (which I unfortunately wasn’t at the time),this song in particular provided just what a proverbial Dr. Funkenstein might want. Its another one of those songs defined by a hybrid sound-in this case a mixture of the Chi-town funk of Earth Wind & Fire and the sleek West Coast style of late 70’s Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Also there’s a strong element of Phil Collins’ early 80’s Brit-funk approach as well. This song is a perfect example of,on a purely musical level of what Mick Jagger sang in 1969: you can’t always get what you want,but sometimes you just might find that you get what you need.

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Filed under Funk, Late 70's Funk, Neo Soul, New Wave, Radio, Soul, UK