Friday, 30 May 2008

CD Review - Temple of Soul

Brothers In Arms

By M.D. Spenser

This debut by a supposed supergroup begins well, but the synthesizers and drum programming wear thin well before the album ends.

The best-known member of Temple Of Soul is Clarence Clemons, sax player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Like Clemons, the other members have stellar contributing credits but no solo albums: Narada Michael Walden on drums, T.M. Stevens on bass and Vernon “Ice” Black on guitar.

The album’s opener, ‘Anna’, in which the singer overcomes his sexual inhibitions in a car, is tight soul-disco. You can almost see the disco ball throwing shards of light around the dance floor.

From there, we get a retro tour through various styles of black American music: the funk of Sly And The Family Stone, bits of hip hop, and ‘Shaft’-era Isaac Hayes.

The listener is treated to not one but two Barry White impersonations, which feature syrupy spoken-word intros pompously delivered in a deep voice: “You get sad, but know that I love you/The universe loves you/Be happy”.

The only cover is Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’.

Mostly this is fine stuff by technically superb musicians. But halfway through the album, the throbbing synthesizer, echo-chamber vocals, and programmed drums start to become too much – especially for Blues loves, who tend to search for real emotion.

By the time the final track, the 13-minute ‘Jazzy Outtake’, arrives, the discipline with which the album began has given way to self-indulgence. And an album that began with such promise leaves in the end a disappointing taste.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Lizz Wright -- Soho Revue Bar, London, 21/4/08

By M.D. Spenser

Lizz Wright walked on stage slowly, regally, eyes downcast, hugging herself, almost oblivious to the audience. Then, from deep within herself, she thrilled the Soho Revue Bar with some of the finest singing to be heard anywhere today.

Her voice is a rich and vibrant instrument, capable of rattling the rafters one minute and conveying great subtlety the next.

Wright was pegged early as a jazz singer, but her repertoire encompasses Blues, folk, gospel and more. It’s a strength for which she needlessly apologized: “If you wonder why my music is all over the place,” she said, “it’s just too much fun to keep to the rules and stay locked into one concept.”

She ranged from the soft beauty of ‘Stop’, which deviated jazzily from the recorded version, to the slow-burning soul of ‘Hit The Ground’, sung to make the listener believe every word: “You’re gonna make it somehow.”

The band – keyboard, guitar, bass, drums – was atmospheric, supporting Wright’s voice, never competing with it.

On “My Heart,” the bassist rendered perfectly a heartbeat. On ‘Song For Mia’, about losing one’s sadness in the eternity of the sea, the keyboards were wonderful and ocean-like.

The entire performance was augmented by the fantastic backup singing of Gina Breedlove, an artist in her own right.

Two of the show’s highlights: the Ike Turner song, ‘I Idolize You’, as sexy a blues as you could ever want, and a scorching rendition of the self-penned hit-the-road song, ‘Leave Me Standing Alone’.

Through it all, Wright sang with eyes closed, caressing herself, sometimes wrapping herself inside a shawl. This is both her strength and her weakness as a live performer.

On the one hand, as she matures she will learn to reach out to an audience and draw them in – even, now and then, to make eye contact. But on the other hand, looking inside herself is what her art is all about. Not a word falls from her lips without having first been filtered through her soul.

To be allowed to participate in that most private of journeys is a privilege and a joy.