Africa to America: The Journey of the Drum
(A & M 549 009-2)
THIS follow-up to the stirring Evolution of Gospel again intersperses bursts of impassioned a cappella gospel into the run of great swaggering Jam & Lewis dance tracks. Though short, the intense emotion of the a cappella sections ensures that they're not dwarfed by the longer, louder tracks. If anything, the excess of repetition drains some of the dance tracks of power.
The songs tell familiar stories: of universal love, and of hope and salvation. Typically, though, help comes in mysterious ways; in 'The Lord Will Make a Way', the narrator's money troubles are alleviated when God gives him the strength to do two jobs rather than one - an example of how Gary Hines, the 40-strong choir's leader, keeps his gospel rooted in social realities.
The group seems on shakier ground when it traces the blues back to Africa. Time and again, God is shoehorned into places He doesn't quite fit. The rootsy 'African Medley' is going fine with its litany of great African kingdoms past and present, until the final section, whose refrain 'Lord, don't let them take me from my native land' couches a slavery lament in terms derived from the enslaving culture. 'The Drum (Africa to America)' is better, being a Last Poets-style drum / vocal sermon on how 'the rhythm of God is the harmony of humanity' - we're talking here about the same Boss Drum that drives the Shamen.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are on top form here, equally at home replicating the dead- snare sound of Al Green (on 'The Lord Will Find a Way') and the social-comment strut- funk approach of Bobby Womack (on 'The Harder They Are, the Bigger They Fall'). If the album doesn't quite belie the old saw about the devil having the best tunes, it does prove that he doesn't have all the best producers.
(Food FOODCD 10)
WITH Parklife, Blur continue the journey into the past begun on their last album Modern Life is Rubbish: sneering at elements of Nineties Britain - the Brit apologist for 'Magic America', the computer-nerd caricature of 'Jubilee'.
Parklife is replete with musical nods to the Sixties and Seventies and exaggerated cockney vocals, offering an oikish persona at odds with the dead- end indie grind of the Rollercoaster tour a few years back. They now seem determined to occupy the ground once inhabited by literate cockney popsters like Madness and Squeeze, and before them by the Kinks and Small Faces.
There's little here to suggest they'll ever be that good, though, to their credit, it must be said that Blur capture that synthetic-society feel well: Parklife is full of guitar-pop every bit as impersonal as a shopping-mall atrium.
UNUSUALLY among soul divas, Angela Winbush also arranges, produces and plays on most of her own songs, and her apprenticeship with Stevie Wonder has clearly prepared her well. The list of session men on her first album for Elektra - the likes of George Duke, Nathan East, Gerald Albright and Ernie Isley, alongside her hubby Ronald Isley - suggests that Angela's been shopping on Elektra's account, and shopping wisely: taut but intimate, this is the kind of classy 'Quiet Storm' product that should finally see her elevated to the same level as the Whitneys and Anitas.
There's great restraint in songs like 'Treat U Rite' and 'Sensitive Heart', a feeling of bottled-up emotion released slowly and subtly, without the glass-shattering vocal showboating affected by such as Mariah Carey. Indeed, her duet with the late Marvin Gaye on 'Inner City Blues' may be heavily dependent on sampler technology, but there's a sensitivity to her performance that enables it to sound more authentic than any of the half- baked collusions on Sinatra's deadly Duets album.
I do wish, though, that soul albums wouldn't faithfully transcribe every single word, sigh and grunt of the usually far-from-memorable songs in their lyric booklets: do we really need to have lines like 'Hey hey hey baby hold on, hold on, mmmm oooh, hold on baby hey eh eh hold on' spelt out for us? And wouldn't that 'mmmm' have been better with five m's . . .?
(Epic EK 80174)
A CANADIAN transplanted to Australia, Mae Moore deals in a sort of gentle folk-rock, set against a subtly tinted ambient backdrop. The nonchalant folk-rap of the title-track is immediately engaging, a languid Left Bank reverie testifying to the life-affirming nature of the artistic life, the singer claiming she's 'Closer than I've ever been / To being alive / Since I've arrived / In bohemia'. This offers a kind of touchstone for the rest of the album, whose romantic impressionism comfortably fills that Julee Cruise hole in the heart, though without seeming quite so archaic.
Steve Kilbey, former frontman of Aussie outfit the Church, has provided a delicate dusting of featherbed pop settings for Moore's soft, breathy vocals and 12-string strumming, a light souffle of tones and drones as skilfully conceived and rendered, in their own way, as Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde's settings for Liz Fraser. There's a genuine pop appeal to songs like 'Arrow' and 'Ophelia' despite the insubstantial, shifting nature of the backings, Kilbey taking care to ensure there's always a hook lurking in the arrangement somewhere, though not always where you expect it. And if there's a bit of a candyfloss feel to some of the lyrics as well as the music, Moore's delivery renders them the sweetest of nothings.
Home Invasion featuring The Last Temptation Of Ice
(Rhyme Syndicate RSYND 101)
SWIFTLY reissued to capitalise on the chart success of the Tubular Bells mix of 'Gotta Lotta Love', the rather lacklustre - by Ice's standards - Home Invasion album is accompanied here by a free second CD of remixes portentously titled The Last Temptation Of Ice. To be honest, it's not that good a deal: few of the half-dozen remixes improve upon the originals, and the added 'Ricochet' seems more like self-parody than authentic threat. Only the new mixes by London's Ronin Inc - 'Gotta Lotta Love' and the On The Rox version of 'That's How I'm Livin' ', which now rides on a funky little guitar figure - add layers to the ever-present menace.
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