Album: Betty Wright & The Roots, Betty Wright: The Movie (S-Curve)
All the Wright moves as a soul star revisits her roots
One of the more welcome contemporary musical trends involves the restoration of Seventies soul stars through judicious alliances with younger artists, not always from apparently congruent genres. The latest is Betty Wright, here seamlessly partnered with The Roots.
This is a different case from the others, however: rather than try and find some new sonic backdrop to showcase Wright's still powerful vocals, her co-producer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has opted to replicate the slinky light-funk style that characterised her earlier hits, a Miami sound originally marked by Hamilton Bohannon's keyboards and Little Beaver's rhythm guitar. The album plays to her strengths, as befits a woman who has sustained a career as producer of, among others, Joss Stone's breakthrough sessions.
"Old Songs" sets the template, with clipped guitar riding a shuffling drum-machine groove that recalls the early-Seventies funk experiments of Sly Stone and George McCrae. But even as she's reminiscing over "old records and memories, 8-tracks", Betty's naturally commanding character comes through, scolding those who shirk creative duties by sampling. "I must admit, your beats are phatter," she concedes, "but have subject matter on subjects that matter." She practises what she preaches by confronting themes of sexual abuse and domestic violence in "Hollywood" and a live rendition of "Go!" respectively, and we're never left in any doubt about her assertive attitude, even when she's temporarily waving the white flag in the face of manly affection in "Surrender".
A few guests add variety: Snoop Dogg, always better as a secondary spice than a primary flavour, lends his drawl to "Real Woman", and Lenny Williams gives it the full Womack on "Baby Come Back"; though I could have done without Betty's squeal-jousting bout with Joss Stone on the coda of "Whisper in the Wind". But I have no beef with the frequent emulations of Little Beaver's guitar licks used throughout the album: when something's that right, it's all right.
Download: Old Songs; Real Woman; Hollywood; Baby Come Back
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