When you hear this song, you may say to yourselfl “aah, some nice Northern soul going on. I think I will continue to watch and listen”, and you should. Then you see one of the guys suited up in the video and you realize “oh hold up? Is that Big Daddy Kane?” It is, proving 26 years after the release of “Raw”, he is still very much the one, but in a new motif.
Sweet soul is the mission for San Francisco’s Rojai and E. Live, and along with the band they prove that when you get down to it (figuratively and literally), “Anything Is Possible”. The song will be found on their forthcoming album, Hard Pressed
Hannah Williams is one of the best soul singers out of England today, and while the passing of Amy Winehouse has made some people feel there is a void towards those representing the fancy side of Northern soul, Williams is someone who can hold out on her own, thank you very much. She and her band, The Tastemakers, are very crafty in what they do, taking care of soul music’s passion and the power of pop, all while Williams goes down and dirty for her love of the blues, as they all demonstrate on A Hill Of Feathers (Record Kicks).
In fact, what I feel is missing with a lot of singers today, soul or otherwise, is the blues. “(When Are You Gonna) Say You’re Mine” is performed in a 3/4 time signature and while the intro may come off a few shades away from Bonnie Raitt, once the song gets closer to its center, it sounds like when James Brown truly gets down, or when Sister Rosetta Tharpe used to sweat it out. There’s a certain essence in Williams voice that I am absolutely not hearing in a lot of other singers, so while she begs and pleads for certain individuals in her songs, she may very well make her listeners beg and plead for her to sing the blues away. That sophistication as she moves from blues belter to passionate soul singer is what makes it click. Then when she gets gritty with the spirit if Mavis Staples in “Get It (Part 1)”, it may make a few people wonder if this lady is indeed from England and not brought up somewhere in the south.
The sound here is dated, but it’s more about being aged to perfection, and while Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers may not be perfect from every angle, they are surely masters of a sound they have successfully captured for themselves, and sharing with everyone.
Christopher Ellis is the oldest son of the late ska/reggae legend Alton Ellis, and he has his own music career that will hopefully get a boost with the release of a new single. “Don’t Change That Number” features Bay C of the group TOK, and the beautiful black & white video, shot in Port Royal, Jamaica, was directed by Brian “B+” Cross of Mochilla
If you are a fan of hard sou, Northern soul, and just that style of soul that is on that border line of funk’s glory era between 1967-1969, you will eat up the new album by The Impellers, This Is Not A Drill (Legere).
This is the band’s second album, and if you’ve heard of them before, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that this set of songs (12 songs total) is solid from start to finish. On the recording side, this could have been taken from a tape box dated 1968 for it has a raw sound that still makes those sounds strong today. But what makes this work is that the raw sound isn’t there to take away from their capabilities as musicians. Then you have a vocalist like Clair Witcher who can rip it like Sharon Jones or even Marva Whitney. If James Brown was alive today, I think he would bow down to this lady, and perhaps get these guys to back him up for a show or twelve. This Is Not A Drill is an apt title, for they do not wait around. They cut to the chase and keep you running until there’s no logical room to do so.
Another underrated soul music hero? There are many that the majority of music fans do not know, but those who do did not need a box set to honor his contributions. For everyone else, his name is Lou Ragland, and as Ohio has become one of the semi-secret states for quality soul and funk in the last 20 years, people are realizing “hey, we need to tell their stories before its too late”. Take it to Numero Group to come to the rescue for Ragland with a forcoming 4LP (or 3CD) box set called I Travel Alone.
If anything, Ragland’s story is not unlike the many other artists from Ohio, or more specifically the city of Cleveland. As thousands of people moved for better jobs or simply for “anything but Cleveland”, the many who stayed did so not only to have a chance for a hit record, but for greater success. Ragland was one of the hardest working singers and musicians around, releasing records under different names and being a part of many groups. In that time, one could document a part of Cleveland’s music scene just by hearing his records, but so much music was coming out. Most of these definitely wanted fortunes and fame, and the goal was to keep on working until it happened. Some realized they had to leave Cleveland in order to keep going. When he became a member of Seven Miles High, they ended up recording an album that barely made a dent, but would become a bit of a “holy grail” when collectors discovered this hidden gem. As the population of Cleveland continued to dwindle, Ragland decided it was time for him to leave and find something better, which he did when he moved to Las Vegas in 1980.
I Travel Alone focuses solely on some of the work he did as a Cleveland resident, going through different styles and textures but in the end shows an artist who used his talents to make music that will be heard by more people today than it did when they were recorded over 40 years ago. The box set will be released on April 10th.
First Word Records has made some outstanding music in 2011, and this compilation serves as a sampler of what has come from them so far, and what is to come. It’s called Two Syllables Volume Six, and if you’re a fan of soul, funk, jazz, reggae, dub, and hip-hop, this may be a compilation that you’ve been wanting for awhile but have not been able to find. I love the diversity these guys offer, and if they are not known to you yet, check it out. This compilation album is available for free, and you can download this as 320kbps MP3’s and FLAC lossless, so transfer to your digital device or include these in your DJ sets if you are club savvy.
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