Soul Searching / 15 Favourites From 2019

Here’s a, shorter, seasonal summary, focused on my favourite soul releases of 2019. A little apéritif or digestif to accompany whatever festive feast you might be indulging in today. Bi-polar-roller-coaster-ing between themes of love and heartbreak. The acceptance of, and the ability to, change. 

To be honest, I didn’t buy so much soul this year. Partly because I was spoilt by my friends at Prime Direct Distribution and Shine Music PR – who sent me a huge stack of vinyl promos, in the spring, around Record Store Day. The pick of this pile for me were the double-headed mod-jazz 45 from Peddlers and the gospel of Spirit and Shirley Finney. 

*If old friends reading / listening are worried that out here in the hills I’ve gone and got “god”, to be honest, I got my own version of god – heaven and hell – 30 years ago when I was dropping sizable doses of acid on a regular basis.

Both gospels sides were released by New Zealand`s Rain&Shine. Who also gave the punk funk bass-rocking, cowbell cracking What Freedom Means by A.M. Muhammad – which I nicked from Phil Mison. 

Backatcha had a bunch of great stuff, the bulk of which unfortunately didn’t seem to reach Japan. Garden Of Eden’s Everybody’s On A Trip however was one I did manage to get my mits on, and blinding it is too. Groovy with mind-blowing Moog-y detail. I also fell hard for Astronauts Etc.`s cover of Smiles` Just A Star – which I played over and over – but I’m not sure classifies as soul. More strung-out, psyche / folk. It really struck a chord with me, since it seems to sum up my whole life. I mean really really really struck a chord. 

Other folk-tinged soul came from Abu Talib on Floating Points` Melodies International. 

Two Terry Callier-calibre that partnered an anti-war message with a call for Universal Love. Leon Thomas` Love Each Other, on a Soul Brother 45, also added its voice to that perennial plea. 

My pals over at Be With Records also fanned the flames of the emotional and passionate, with a rake-load of reissued rarities from Breakwater, Leroy Burgess` Logg, Caesar Frazier, Vaughan Mason, Butch Dayo, The Optimistics, Skyy, and Leon Ware’s Rainbow Deux. The standout for me though was Samuel Jonathan Johnson`s Sweet Love – which sounds like it was at least a little Leon Ware-influenced. 

Wewantsounds pulled together a retrospective sampler from the catalogue of Bob Shad`s Mainstream label. Demonstrating Shad`s ear for funk,  jazz, ballads and the blues, and containing Sarah Vaughan`s essential take of Just A Little Lovin. The Paris-based label were also the salvation of Jaye P. Morgan`s set of privately pressed — mostly – covers, which included a sublime version of Can`t Hide Love. 

Italy’s Cannonball Records launched an ambitious rescue mission with Woodward Avenue Players` Fire Him, Hire Me. The first 45 in a project to restore unreleased gems, recorded in the Detroit area, from recently discovered reel-to-reel tapes. Raw, rough and ready The WAPs sound like they’re so excited to be in the studio that they might explode. Pure exuberance. 

One undisputed classic that got a reissue this year was Al Mason’s uptempo modern soul floor-filler, Good Lovin`, back out on again on Al & The Kidd Records (thank you to Ross Allen and his Meltdown for the tip). Another was Timeless Legend`s I was Born To Love You. The Love Vinyl guys pressed this up a 12” in 2018, but Expansion put it back on a repro 45 for me and my fellow obsessives. 

If you were lucky enough to reside in Japan then you could also grab a copy of the Universal Dessinee repress of Crystal Clear`s Stay With Me. Produced by Morris Bailey in 1980, it`s a ringer for the work of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, and massive. 

I close on the only contemporary band here, Sault. The mysterious collective released two albums, 5, and 7, in quick succession, on Forever Living Originals. Both were strong, but I love this song, Why Why Why. Its chorus aching like “Lana Del Rey at the disco”. Weaving together potentially cliched lyrics, to instead create something both authentic and new.  

Track-list

Al Mason – Good Lovin – Al & The Kidd

Woodward Avenue Players – Fire Him, Hire Me – Cannonball

Garden Of Eden  – Everybody’s On A Trip – Backatcha

Sault – Why Why Why  – Forever Living Originals

Timeless Legend – I was Born To Love You – Expansion

Spirit – Put Your Hands Together – Rain&Shine

Shirley Finney – Pray Again – Rain&Shine

AM Muhammad – What Freedom Means – Rain&Shine

Leon Thomas – Love Each Other – Soul Brother

Peddlers – Comin Home Baby – Epic

Samuel Johnathan Johnson – Sweet Love – Be With

Sarah Vaughan – Just A Little Lovin – Wewantsounds

Crystal Clear – Stay With Me – Universal Dessinee

Bobby Wright – Everyone Should Have His Day – Melodies International

Jaye P Morgan – Can`t Hide Love – Wewantsounds

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