Review: ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS: `This may be Hiatt's most approachable record yet'
Island ICT 8058
Rather heavier than it is soulful, 's latest slab of dull retro-rock riffing carries on where Stanley Road left off. Paltry of melody, surly of tone, this music seems to exist simply to give its players something to do. Haven't they got a street corner they could be hanging around instead?
Listening to the drably portentous Heavy Soul, you have to wonder if they had much fun making it. Certainly, it's hard to think of an artist whose music smiles as infrequently as Weller's. Even classic miserabilists such as Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen occasionally engage a laconic smirk at their own expense. There isn't really much soul here anyway, the R&B influences to which he once paid lip-service having been almost expunged from this aanchronistic love affair between white boys and their guitars.
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Like his one-time musical partner Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal serves as a living museum of American styles that is always worth a visit. With his continued curatorship of country blues now bearing tasty new fruit through a younger generation of steel-pickers such as Corey Harris, Eric Bibb and Keb' Mo, Taj broadens his outlook here to range across the spectrum of black musical modes from jazz to gospel, finding new accents for old classics and adding a few new classics of his own. His take on "Think" is a light, rolling funk groove, gently persuasive rather than urgent, like Aretha's version.
There is no colour division in operation, either. Hank Williams' "Mind Your Own Business" provides proof of the close connection between blues and its white counterpart - country. It's educational stuff, sure, but few lessons have this element of fun.
Five years is a long time between albums for rock acts; for soul acts, it's a virtual eternity, but that's how long it has taken for this follow- up to the hugely successful Funky Divas to appear. It shows, too: the interim has seen a couple of solo albums and a departure from the EV ranks, leaving the remaining trio looking disconcertingly like the Three Degrees on the cover.
The music, too, lacks the unity of purpose of previous releases, being a hotch-potch of straightforward swingbeat and plodding, overwrought soul anthems which, by the time they reach the appalling "Eyes of a Child", have degenerated into witless invocations to save the world, by, yes, looking through the eyes of a child. The material is largely drab, and all the divas' best efforts can't disguise the fact that, alas, they're no longer the spiciest item on the sassy girl-group menu.
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