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.
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.
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