Review: Boom: three years, three albums. No biggie for Bristol duo The Allergies, Jalapeno's biggest success story since Kraak & Smaak. Each album shows them getting deeper into the groove, creeping away from the cheeky samples and sculpting their own pedigree funk originals. With Ugly Ducking Andy Cooper onside through the mix from the wild ride vibing "Fade Away" to the white knuckle lyrical fire of "Run It Back", there's a real band feeling to the whole album as familiar voices thread throughout the jams... including that of UK hip hop legend Dr Syntax.
Review: This is the second part of Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 and is again packed with tracks that are far more than unreleased findings from the cutting room floor. Each one serves as another feather in the bow of the virtuoso Ayers, who combined jazz, funk, soul and disco in magical and unique ways throughout his career. In doing so he laid down a precursor to acid jazz and hip hop. These are tracks that show off his dynamic, liquid rhythm sections and mellifluous keys, as well as the vocal talents of a range of collaborators who touch on soaring and sensuous highs as well as more gravel and earthy lows. Essential.
Review: Second time around for "Virgin Ubiquity", a killer collection of previously unreleased Roy Ayers recordings that first appeared in stores way back in 2003. Focusing on the period between 1976 and '81, much of the material joins the dots between jazz-funk, soul, disco and boogie. Highlights are plentiful throughout, from the weighty, horn-heavy release of the Merry Clayton voiced "What's The T" and heady "Oh What A Lonely Feeling", to the languid vibraphone solos of mellow groover "Green and Gold", jazzy bliss of "Mystic Voyage (Version)" and the stomping, disco era street funk of "I Am Your Mind". In a word: essential.
Review: Once dubbed "the screaming eagle of soul", Charles Bradley passed away in 2017 after a late career surge that saw him finally find the commercial success that had long eluded him. "Black Velvet", his second and final posthumous set, draws on material recorded with long-term producer Tommy "TNT" Brenneck over the course of his career. Much of the material is either exceedingly rare (see his covers of songs by Nirvana, Neil Young and Rodriguez, as well as a sought-after funk duet with LaRose Jackson) or previously unreleased (see "Can't Fight The Feeling", "Fly Little Girl" and the never-before-heard "full band" take on Bradley classic "Victim of Love"). More importantly, it's all exceptionally good, making this a fitting farewell to Floridian soul singer.
Review: Athens of the North originally contracted obscure 80s boogie artist Billy Bruner about reissuing two of his rare, sought-after singles - "The Tulsa Song" and "The Dream" - but instead raided his tape archives and putting together what's effectively his debut album. Combining previously released tracks (including some made as part of similarly obscure outfit T'Spoon and the gospel-leaning band The Davis Family), unheard extended versions and previously unreleased songs, the album is warm, soulful, slick and summery. Highlights include the stuttering P-funk flex of "Cats Meow", the sizzling dancefloor heat of "School Dance" and the deliciously extended version of glassy-eyed '80s soul jam "Never". If sparkling, synth-heavy '80s soul is your thing, this is one surprise retrospective you won't want to miss.
Review: Since its creator pressed and released it himself in 1981, Louisville gospel musician Lamont Butler's sole album, "It's Time For A Change", has become something of an in-demand item amongst collectors. As this timely reissue proves, the album has aged rather well. Rich in infectious grooves, righteous lyrics, superb vocals (mostly provided by the man himself, with the occasional assistance of a gospel choir) and addictive instrumentation, the album's ten tracks range from funky church hall stompers ("Get Up And Praise The Lord") and deliciously jazzy slow jams ("Thank You Lord"), to summery soul songs ("Time For A Change") and the kind of hybrid folk-soul that was once associated with the late, great Terry Callier ("Smile"). In a word: superb.
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express - "Foolish Girl" (feat Alex Ligertwood)
The New Mastersounds - "Tantalus"
The Getup - "Hush"
Orquesta Akokan - "Mambo Rapidito"
Gizelle Smith - "Scared Of Something"
Menagerie - "Spiral"
Review: Craig Charles' annual "Funk & Soul Club" compilations are fast becoming as much of a Christmas tradition as turkey, dodgy decorations and ill-advised snogs at office parties. As with its predecessor, this sixth volume does a good job in showcasing the best in modern funk, soul, Afrobeat and heavy Latin jams, with a few stone cold classics thrown in (see the Mighty Ryeders' peerless "Evil Vibrations"). Look out for deep and heavy funk gems from the Bamboos, the New Mastersounds and Lance Ferguson's Rare Groove Spectrum, some suitably smooth fare from Courtney Pine and Omar, a scintillating, salsa-focused cover of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" by Scotland's Grupo Magnetico, and a dash of dancefloor goodness from funk breaks scene stalwarts Smoove and Turrell.
Review: Interestingly, the roots of the latest El Michels Affair lie in a 2017 collection of cinematic soul interludes he created as a kind of showreel-for-sampling. As that was a successful exercise - some of the minute-long tracks became the basis of songs Beyonce & Jay-Z and Travis Scott, amongst others - Michels decided to gather together his band-mates and create an imaginary 1960s movie soundtrack along the same lines, or as he puts it, "a kind of musical Choose Your Own Adventure". Combining loose, languid and lazy soul grooves with atmospheric orchestration, eyes-closed female vocals, jazz style arrangements and quirky instrumental choices, "Adult Themes" is a hugely evocative, atmospheric and entertaining affair that contains numerous subtle nods to Harold Budd, David Axelrod and Francous de Robaix.
Review: North Carolina's Lee Fields has had a long career with some dramatic pauses, but the last few years have seen him stronger than ever with LPs on Truth & Soul and now Big Crown Records. "It Rains Love" is his second LP with The Expressions, and it strikes a classic Motown note that sounds utterly timeless in its execution. The production definitely has some of the warmth and grit of Motor City classics from back in the day, but Fields' conviction and power in his delivery sounds bang up to date. For fans of Mayfield, Redding et al, this is an unmissable set of rough-edged soul.