Soldier of Love (Sony)
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Sade’s sixth album is a welcome return for those who know and love the reclusive one’s breathy and sensuous style – this is the first release since the classic Lovers Rock from 2000. Those yet to get acquainted are treated to a concise 10-track suite of calm and serene melodies, subtle, unforced rhythms packaged in themes of love and relationships.
The driving military-march like backing track of first single Soldier of Love shows the range of Sade’s distinctive voice. And if you think Babyfather could be the bitter and twisted musings of a wronged woman – it’s not. Listen out for the reggae tinged production, children’s chorus and subtle organs in a tribute to fatherhood. Close behind in quality is the hypnotic The Moon and the Sky and the pulsing beat and rhythm of Bring Me Home.
With long time collaborators Stuart Matthewman, Paul Spencer Denmann, and Andrew Hale, Soldier Of Love is a quality product, and assured enough to deploy a formula that has produced multiple awards and 50 million plus sales. Sade’s voice is – as ever – sophisticated, confident – no dramatics or forced emotions. She’s in a reflective mood and heartfelt lyrics of pain and hurt reveal that side – hear the yearning in her voice on In Another Time. And at under an hour long Soldier of Love’s calm and assured music is an antidote to the pre-packaged and predictable styles that have gained ground during her absence. Welcome back. By Shaun Hutchinson
Corinne Bailey Rae
The Sea (Virgin)
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Honestly, I had no time for Corinne Bailey Rae’s first album. In my opinion it was bland-serviceable pop-soul-jazz background commercial ear candy with a good looking face to match that just happened to catch on, a carefully orchestrated counterpoint for those who couldn’t take the drama that were Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen.
And then came the death of her husband/band bassist, and if life has taught us anything, it’s Where There Is Adversity, There Is Art. Rae and Co, as though they knew the world expected more from them, released I’d Do It All Again in the dying days of 2009. Powerful, deep, heartbreaking and uplifting all of in three minutes and eight seconds, it was a revelation, a ‘mature’ yet accessible composition. Allegedly written after a bust up, the lyrics allow brief yet poignant glimpses into a relationship on the rock. Rae’s voice wrinkled with personality, her words packed more punch, her band etching a sound that haunted for weeks; it was, in effect, all her, but better.
And there’s a reason I’m wailing on about this one song; the rest of the album turned out to be a slight disappointment. Not to worry; it’s a perfectly serviceable collection of background ear candy, and to the band’s credit the palette has been widened in an effort to lively up the party: witness single number two Paris Nights/New York Mornings with its indie-lite swing and the electro-soul styling of Closer. But you get the impression, having reached for the sun once, marketing pressure melted their wings. Slow songs, chilled out verses, boxes ticked. It’s a Saving Private Ryan conundrum: after the opening mind blowing scenes, we settle into business as usual, and business as usual can’t match up.
I’ll Do It All Again is the truant child at a polite dinner party, the starter that beat the main course, a showcase of what Rae and company could do, if they weren’t following a million selling first album and/or didn’t care how many fans they lost on the way. If you enjoyed Rae’s last album, this should be an automatic purchase; but it’s painfully short on greatness. By Joshua Idehen
Blackmagic (Brownswoord Recordings)
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I caught on the Jose James bandwagon when I heard the Flying Lotus produced Visions of Violet, a breezy soulful summer anthem that never was. A Google and a trip down iTunes revealed The Dreamer, James’ amazing jazz-lounge debut, which was a world away from Visions and not as accessible; not electro-modern trinkets to sweeten the deal, no catchy hooks, no swinging numbers, no obvious up-tempo single material; just a voice, a band, piano solos and the beauty that emerges from their union. It gained him enough fans to go for a second album, Blackmagic.
If The Dreamer was a beautiful nun with a devil’s grin under that restraint, Blackmagic would definitely be her party-going, life-loving sister. With a big smile. Who still goes to church. Who you’d probably like to hang out with more.
There probably isn’t enough praise to heap on Blackmagic without sounding like a frothing press release. It’s an outstanding album. Jose James benefits from such a fresh and expanded sound it’s almost hard to believe both albums come from the same man. Opening salvo Code sounds like Madlib’s hidden gem. Warrior with its jazzy keyboards notes meshing with banging house-drum riffs, followed by some monstrous bass, is a high up on the ladder of awesome. It’s like the aforementioned Visions taken as a mandate and ran with, whilst the songwriting – already outstanding on the myriad of themes present on The Dreamer- for the most part is stripped down to that favourite chestnut: Love, and the perks that come with it: the smart, charged sexuality of Lay You Down, his half wispy, relaxed tone declaring ‘Now’s the time for you to touch my face’. Promise in Love sounds like Pete Rock trying to revive nu soul and succeeding. Love Conversations, a duet with Jordana de Lovely is jaw achingly beautiful: he says ‘I wanna talk to you,’ she cuts in ‘go… slow.’ I found myself yelling ‘yes! Yes! G’wan Jose!’ on the N38 bus. It’s possibly this album’s finest moment, amongst many fine moments.
It probably wouldn’t be Jose James if the didn’t totally jazz at least a few times; however here he maintains a lighter, more accessible remit, and they work well with the others. Beauty is a nice understated couples anthem, while album finisher No Tellin’ is a slow sober yearn for a lost love, and a brilliant round off of what should be rightly regarded as one of the decade’s first great albums. Blackmagic is an accomplished result. Pay money for it. By Joshua Idehen
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Kystle Warren’s music is hard to categorize, sound checking everything from jazz, blues, soul and pop. At its core, however, Krystle’s debut album Circles is a folk record.
The array of influences on Krystle’s debut album mean that each song has its own, unique character – there is a funk influence on Sunday Comfort for instance, and the use of slide guitar provides a country-music tinge on Current Events. The stripped-back songs, such as opener Year End Issue and Sparkle and Fade are sublime little folk songs led by Krystle’s gentle acoustic strumming. These simple and thought-provoking compositions recall the gentle folk of Nick Drake, the singer-songwriter who died before his time in the 70s, and validate Krystle’s inclusion on the recent Nick Drake tribute tour.
By far and away, the most memorable component of Circles is Krystle Warren’s voice. The emotion and soul that she conveys explains why she is often compared to the late Jeff Buckley, the renowned singer best known for his heartrending cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. This is most apparent when listening to A View From The Rooftop and Yuletide Carol, two songs in which Krystle is given room to show off her true singing capabilities.
Krystle Warren’s soulful voice and impressive vocal range provides energy to charming, jazz-infused folk music – the most captivating easy-listening music to be released for quite some time. By Clive Rozario
Kyrstle Warren will be performing at Soho Theatre on 4 nights: Wed 27th – Sat 27th. Click here for details and tickets
Read our interview with Krystle Warren