Album: Remy Shand

The Way I Feel, Motown
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

As a teenager back in his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Remy Shand played in various "experimental" rock bands but struggled to find anyone who shared his interest in classic, early Seventies soul and jazz-funk. It was an interest sparked years earlier, when his dad salvaged a crate of old albums from a club he was remodelling. Songs in the Key of Life, 3+3, I Want You, Here, My Dear... those and similarly powerful stuff from Al Green, Curtis, Sly and Steely Dan became Remy's musical primers, a curriculum of excellence profoundly out of step with whatever passed for "experimental" rock in Winnipeg back in the mid-Nineties.

Fortunately for Remy, being a musical genius, he just sat down and did it all himself. Wrote every song, played every instrument, sang every harmony, punched every button, slid every fader... He may have struck lucky and persuaded his mum to make him a cup of tea every now and then; otherwise, apart from a horn overdub on one track, he's directly responsible for every sound on The Way I Feel, an album so seamlessly in the tradition that Motown's boss, Kedar Massenburg, had no hesitation in signing Shand to the spiritual home of Marvin and Stevie. In fact, it's probably Remy who's doing the favour. His album is the best thing that Motown has put out in donkey's years.

Shand's genius lies in his ability to unpick the carefully braided threads of complex soul arrangements, re-spin and re-dye the yarns, then entwine them together in stunning re-arrangements of the original styles, with mood always the decisive factor. Simply knowing how the sounds combine is tough enough, requiring an almost autistic intensity of concentrated observation; and if you consider how many musicians Marvin Gaye (or Brian Wilson) needed to realise his vision, Remy's achievement in realising them on his own becomes all the more staggering.

He's not just a jack of all trades, either. Every time he picks up a guitar, he becomes Ernie Isley or Bobby Womack; every time he sits at a keyboard, he becomes Stevie Wonder or Herbie Hancock. He's that attuned to their various styles, and he knows how they all fit together. There's not a wah-wah chop or clavinet gurgle or Moog warble out of place here, and Shand's falsetto croon – by turns like Curtis, Marvin and the Reverend Al – is the kind of blessing that can't be taught.

His material, too, accurately recalls the aspirational, questing nature of Seventies soul. There are songs here about getting out, breaking free, making changes, liberating one's soul, trying to realise one's potential – love, in this instance, standing as a fairly obvious metaphor for Shand's creative urgings, as he leaves behind his "experimental" rock past for a brave new future. The only danger is that, with such stellar role models, Remy's own character may struggle to assert itself sufficiently. But with songs as naturally persuasive as "The Second One", "Liberate" and "Take a Message" in his armoury, that's hardly a pressing concern. A dazzling debut, recommended to fans of Maxwell and Macy Gray.