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Old 11-17-2014, 05:10 PM   #2517 (permalink)
Trollheart
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It’s certainly been a while since I shook ma groove thang or got down with myself in a funkadelic situation (stop it, Trollheart: you’re embarrassing yourself and others!) but now it’s time to try to get two more soul albums in before the yuelide festivities crash down upon us like, well, a big crashing thing. The last time --- which was the first time --- I looked into this genre, a minefield for me and very much a strange and alien world, I played it safe and picked two icons, Benson and Vandross. This time out, though I know no more now than I did then about soul, I'd like to try stretching a little and feature two artistes who, while well known to soul fans may not be all that famous outside of their own genre. Both had hits, certainly, but in the case of one it was a long time ago and in the case of the other, well, let's just say a certain bald drummer kind of stole the limelight on his hit single...

I always wondered what Tavares meant. Now I know. It's actually the surname of all the bandmembers, brothers all, in a move that was quite popular back in the seventies, as bands like The Jackson Five, The Osmonds and the Pointer Sisters all used their family name. Although they had a string of hit singles Tavares peaked and then sort of fell away, and while most of them still play today, I'd venture to suggest they're more popular as a nostalgia act than anything else. A place on the soundtrack and an actual performance in the movie “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977 raised their profile considerably, but in 1982, after their ninth and tenth albums failed to chart, their record company, Capitol, dumped them and their last two albums were recorded on the RCA label.

Like many soul bands of their time, Tavares straddled the worlds of pop music, disco and even r&B but to me, from what little I heard of them, ended up sounding like anyone from The Real Thing to The Drifters; to me, most if not all soul bands sounded very much the same, and while that's I'm sure a terrible and unfair generalisation, in the seventies and eighties I shrank from the disco/funk/soul explosion in the charts and bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, Shakatak and later the likes of M People just left me pretty much cold. Probably still do and will, but I said I'd give soul a chance here, so here's its chance.

To be as fair as I can to Tavares, I'm not taking any of their albums that have the well-known singles, which all came out in the early to mid seventies, and am instead looking at one which comes at the kind of tail-end of their success, which carried them through four albums up to almost the end of the 1970s. This was said to have been their least successful album, their first without some sort of hit single. In fact, contrary to every album prior, it made no impact on any chart at all. So at least I can't be accused of grabbing their most successful or well known album!

Love uprising --- Tavares --- 1980 (Capitol)
One thing that interests --- well, disappoints me is that I see there are no writing credits here for any of the five Tavares brothers. However, looking back (and indeed forward) this appears to have always been the case. Tavares don't seem to have been a band who wrote their own material, which I'm afraid is always a big black mark against any artiste in my book. Sure, you can be a good singer or guitar player or keyboardist, but if you're singing or playing someone else's music I never feel the real heart is there, the passion and the sincerity. Of course, what do I know? I couldn't write a song to save my life. But it always seems to me that those who write and sing their own music have more of a feel for it, give you the impression they believe what they're singing, and not just parrotting someone else's words.

Oh wait, I'm wrong. I see two of the songs were co-written by Feliciano and one also had Perry helping out. Nevertheless, out of a total of eleven tracks that's not much, and as I say their previous albums don't seem to have had any input from any of the Tavareses at all. And speaking of nothing at all, would you believe neither Spotify nor Groovyshark have this album? I can't find it on YouTube either, so in desperation (what? No I didn't buy it! You think I'm made of airports?) I've looked for each track singly on YouTube and I think I've found most if not all of them.

So then, were these guys all about the singles or was there more depth to their music? How did an album without any hit singles, and failing to chart, measure up against the more successful fare from their heyday? Only one way to find out...

Flute seems to feature a lot in seventies/eighties soul, horns too and “Only one I need to love” is I guess a mid-paced funk tune, with female backing vocals that work well, and a jazzy, sort of congo beat. I think, though I may of course not be right, that EWF popularised those peppy horns in soul tunes, at least that's where I first heard them. Guitars for me always seem to be underused in soul, though again as I say I haven't listened to enough of the genre to make that claim, but it does seem that they tend to operate more as a backup or rhythm instrument than lead, allowing keys and horns to take precedence.

Percussion, too, is more involved it would seem in soul than many other genres, and by involved I mean intricate. Often a drummer just keeps, drives or creates the rhythm, against which the rest of the band play, and that's fine. But in soul it seems the patterns are more complicated, more diverse, more ... musical than in other genres. Anyway while I've been waffling on about things I know nothing about we've moved on to “Break down for love”, which is a slightly higher tempo song, with nice vocal harmonies, but I have to say nothing terribly special. It's one of the two songs Feliciano works on, but there's nothing there to demonstrate to me that he's a good songwriter.

I can see the truth in the perception of Tavares having been more a disco band than a true soul one; most of this would be very comfortable on the dancefloor, in the clubs, but I can't see or hear anything particularly memorable about it. I remember songs by The Stylistics, Supremes and Temptations, songs that made an impression. To me, these songs sort of just pass the time, musical wallpaper, nothing that sticks in the mind. Even the title track has a very Earth, Wind and Fire feel to it, boppy again yes but little in it is standing out to me. Could be any of the few soul bands I've heard in my life, including the aforementioned EWF. Well, let's see if I can say anything complimentary rather than just bitching and sniping all the time. The guitar is good, very funky and the horns are used well, and as ever the female backing vocals are effective. The song's very repetitive though. Very. To the point where it gets boring really.

It's also way too long: five and a half minutes for a song that changes little if at all over the course of its length? Just makes it worse. Definitely not impressed so far. Nice little organ run there, but I have to wonder now are those female vocals or are the guys just a bit falsetto? If there are backing vox then they're almost taking over this song. On we go anyway, to the first ballad, “Loneliness”, which does for the first time up the game considerably. Nice sweeping orchestral style synth, tinkling piano and a very powerful vocal from, well, I guess one of the Tavareses, not sure which one in a quartet who all sing. Kind of reminds me of the Chi-lites in places. Very smooth.

“Knock the wall down” is next. Does it? Well in a way yeah it does: very Crusaders vibe about it, both the guitar and the horns, sounds like something Phil Collins would rob and record as his own. It certainly qualifies as groovy, man. “Hot love” has that sort of Carribean style about it but keeps the tempo high, hopping along nicely, sounds like there may be violins in there, but maybe they're on the synth. Probably the most energetic of the songs on the album so far, and certainly my favourite, even given that there has been a ballad. I really like this. There's some very squibbly keyboards in “Don't wanna say goodnight”, which I had assumed would be another ballad but isn't. A funky dancy number, with squealing horns and congo-ish drums. Not bad, but after “Hot love” it's something of a let-down. Ditto for “Do you believe in love”, which again has ballad written all over it but is a mid-paced funkster. It's okay but I think we reached the tipping point of the album with “Hot love” and though it hasn't quite all been downhill since there, it's hard to see anything as good coming along.

Yeah. “She can wait forever” just continues the slide into basic mediocrity. Lovely bassline and some fine sprinkly piano, but it's definitely missing something. Just boring as hell. I had a really hard time tracking down the penultimate track, but it seems to have been worth it. “In this lovely world” has a sweet motown blues feel to it; not sure if it would qualify as a ballad, but it's close. Has the horns I remember from “What the world needs now” and a really nice melody to it. I couldn't find this on YouTube, or even Daily Motion, looked for the track on Grooveshark, no luck. Eventually found it squashed in on one of their many hits anthologies via Spotify. Definite competition for “Hot love” as standout, but it's a little late and it's a small comfort among the very ordinary and often tedious bland material I've had to listen to here.

The closer may also prove elusive. No, it doesn't. It proves untraceable. “A lifetime of love” can't be found anywhere, not even as a greatest hits track, so I can't tell you anything about it, but I hope it closed the album decently and helped “Love uprising” to rally right at the end. It's certainly an album that needed a good shot in the arm. Okay, I managed to catch the first sixty seconds of it as a sample and can confidently say it plunges the album back into the depths of so-so-ness. Very bad closer unless it drastically changes over the remaining two minutes. Should have finished up with the previous track.

TRACKLISTING
1. Only one I need to love
2. Break down for love
3. Love uprising
4. Loneliness
5. Knock the wall down
6. Hot love
7. Don't wanna say goodnight
8. Do you believe in love
9. She can wait forever
10. In this lonely world
11. Lifetime of love

Tavares have not impressed me. This album is very very ordinary and very generic, almost a how-to for someone attempting a soul/disco record. There's little that stands out about it and the few decent tracks are very few indeed. I'm not surprised there were no hits from this, and I'm not surprised that after giving them one more chance to improve, Capitol dumped them when sales of their next album mirrored the disappointing performance of this one.

They may have been big once, but what this album shows is a band who were very quickly losing it, and seemed really not all that bothered. Perhaps they knew the end was nigh, and it was: their last album was released in 1983, and though it did much better than this one, they called it a day and that was it for the Tavares brothers. An unfortunate example of the reasons why soul does not generally appeal to me, though of course I know there is much more to it. Speaking of which...

Our next artiste then comes from one of arguably the greatest and most successful soul bands ever, Earth, Wind and Fire. Not only that, but since going solo he has collaborated with George Duke, Kenny Loggins, Pat Metheny and of course Phil Collins. Say hi to


As I said, a longstanding member of EWF, Philip Bailey was with them almost from the beginning, joining in 1972, two years after they had formed, and apart from a three-year absence from 1984-1987, has been with them ever since, and still is, having scaled the heights to the position of leader of the band. He is an accomplished singer as well as drummer, the congas being his weapon of choice, and is of course best known outside of the genre for his teamup with Genesis's Phil Collins, where the single “Easy lover” gave the duo a number one smash, and adding a Grammy nomination to the seven awards he already has.

His best known solo album is “Chinese wall”, but again that would be too easy, so instead I'm going beyond that, to take a look at this one. I wanted to do “Family affair”, released in 1989, but I see that it's described as a gospel album, and while I have nothing against gospel, this is called “Soul II Soul”, so instead we're leaping ten years ahead of that album, and fifteen years after “Chinese wall”, to a point where Bailey had at this point been singing and playing professionally for twenty-two years.

Dreams --- Philip Bailey --- 1999 (Heads Up International Records)
This is then Bailey's ninth solo album, not counting a gospel “best of”, and it opens on “Waiting for the rain”, with a suitably soft and sprinkly piano, some nice flute and a gentle, relaxing beat. Some nice classical guitar also supports Bailey's honeyed tones with some fine backing vocals too. There are a total of twenty musicians, including Bailey, performing on this album, few of which I know, other than the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. It's a nice start though, and leads into one of four covers, this one being Van Morrison's “Moondance”. He does a really good job with it, giving it a feel of the islands, a laidback but yet uptempo beat that just conjures up crystal blue oceans and stars in the sky as the palm trees sway gently in the moonlit breeze. Nice saxophone action on this, gives it a lazy and smoky feel. I've never been a fan of Morrison, but this version puts a nice new slant on one of the few songs of his that I do know.

One of three songs written solo by keyboard player and co-producer Eric Huber, --- he also wrote the opener ---“Dream like I do” is a nice ballad, with a sort of popping percussion that reminds me of Collins's “Through these walls” and some nice but very sugary digital piano allied to some low-down mournful sax. I can't say I love it, as it sounds like it was written to be a single, but it's all right. Kind of reminds me of the sort of thing boyband after boyband would write in the following century. Surely not good for you, all that saccharin! It's followed by another Huber composition, imaginatively titled “Something”, which immediately gets on my bad side by having a reggae rhythm. Sigh. It's not much to write home about, with a mid-paced funk feel to it and Bailey's distinctive falsetto, some interesting sort of talkbox guitar, but a bit lacking in ideas I feel.

Two cover versions follow, the first being Bread's smash hit “Make it with you”, given the full soul treatment, with opening on alto sax, then a nice jazzy piano (Fender Rhodes?) with a pulsing bassline. Of course, I don't think anyone can ever compare to the original, but it's a decent effort. Kind of lacks the heart and passion of David Gates, but then, what version doesn't? The falsetto gets a little wearing at times, if I'm honest. I'm not familiar with Earth Wind and Fire's catalogue outside the singles and the one album I listened to for my “Classic albums” journal, but this is their song and “Sailaway” is pretty damn righteous. Great rippling piano, perfect vocals and backing vocals, plus a sax solo to die for. Superb. Best yet on the album. And no Eric fucking Huber involved. Just as well too; I didn't like any of the songs he wrote for our man Philip.

Oh, my mistake: there are five cover versions on this album, as everyone knows “The masquerade is over”, showtune by Herb Magidson, and it's up next. Have to say, it stands head, shoulders and another full body above everything here, even the previous EWF cover. Sounds like something Waits would cover: just listen to that walking bass, the wailing sax, the bouncy piano. If “Sailaway” was superb then this is double superb. Love this, but I have a sneaking feeling it's going to be the last decent track on the album. Hope I'm wrong. Maybe I am. Good to see Philip break out of the falsetto for this song too, a welcome change. Rather appropriately, the next track is called “Are we doing better now” and reminds me of Al Jarreau, lot of funky organ and a sort of shuffle beat. It's not bad, but to answer the question in the song's title, no, not really. It's probably the jazziest of the songs on the album, but you know me, and I don't consider that a good thing. I should however mention that it's one of only two original tracks on which Bailey has songwriting input.

That leaves us with two tracks, the first a cover version, the final one on the album, and it's of Pat Metheny's “Something to remind you”, with the great man himself guesting on guitar. Again, it shines among the, not quite dross, but largely unappealing and quite bland fare on this album. I guess really it's more like just including a Metheny song on the album, but Bailey does a very good job on the vocals. It's a slow, smouldering number with a real laidback lounge feeling, and we close on “Strength to love you”, the other song he helped write, along with Sir Bailey (his brother?) and Robert Brookins --- the same team in fact that wrote “Are we doing better now”. It's a vast, vast improvement on that song, with a wailing sax intro that then falls into a sweet soft soul groove and ends up closing the album really well, giving it the strong finish I had hoped for, but not really expected, though to be totally fair that is also down to Mister Metheny.

TRACKLISTING
1. Waiting for the rain
2. Moondance
3. Dream like I do
4. Something
5. Make it with you
6. Sailaway
7. The masquerade is over
8. Are we doing better now
9. Something to remind you
10. Strength to love you

Although this is his ninth album so you can forgive I guess some indulgence, I'm disappointed that there were so many covers --- half the album in fact consists of non-original songs. Of those that are original, some are good, some are very good and some are ... not so good. I'm aware that I'm probably after hitting Bailey at a bad time, chose the wrong album, but that's the chance you take when you just jump right in. Also with all the gospel records he had my options were a little limited. But for what it is this is not a bad album, and I'd certainly rate it far above the effort from Tavares.
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