For Fans of: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, The Supremes, and Tina Turner
Both originally from New York’s South Bronx, Saun and Starr have been part of the city’s music scene pretty much their entire lives. Saun started out singing in church and local clubs before fronting her own band “Saundra & The Force”. Starr also started out singing church before finding her way to performing on Broadway. While the ladies did cross paths at different times in their careers it wasn’t until fate planted them both in a hard-working local wedding band (featuring a then unknown Sharon Jones) that they seriously started performing together. The group performed all over New York for most of the 90’s but eventually each of the ladies left the group and went their own way. It wasn’t until the release of Sharon Jones’ fourth LP I Learned The Hard Way in 2008 that the trio of Sharon, Saun, and Starr would work together again. Originally only hired for one show as back up singers for Sharon, the duo of Saun and Starr took the whole group’s performance to another level. Asked to join the band as “The Dapettes” the ladies quickly became an important part of the show. Now after seven years of performing behind Ms. Jones, the ladies are now stepping out on their own as “Saun & Starr” with their first full-length LP LOOK CLOSER.
Like many other Daptone releases the music on LOOK CLOSER was recorded in New York at Daptone’s own “House of Soul” studios and was written and produced by members of the Dap-Kings. Even though the music on LOOK CLOSER isn’t a huge leap from the music on a Sharon Jones album this record isn’t just “a record by the ladies that backup Sharon”. The performances here are really strong and the songs are well written. “Your Face Before My Eyes” is an up-tempo hard-soul scorcher, while tracks “Hot Shot” and “Big Wheel” both swing like something off a late 60’s Motown record. Another stand-out track is the bouncy “Sunshine (You’re Blowin My Cool)”. Full of wonderful harmonies this song is definitely more soulful then anything you’ll hear on today’s Top 40 radio stations. A huge reason why the songs on LOOK CLOSER are so good is due to the vocal interplay between Saun & Starr. After logging thousands of miles with Sharon Jones these ladies definitely know what works and what doesn’t. They switch effortlessly from sounding like one voice to taking turns leading the band. These ladies are true professionals and it’s obvious that they’re too talented to be confined to supporting roles.
In short, the debut album from Saun & Starr is a solid buy front to back. Here’s hoping it brings them the attention they’ve worked so hard for and so rightly deserve.
LEE FIELDS & THE EXPRESSIONSEMMA JEAN Truth & Soul Records
For Fans of: Issac Hayes, James Brown, Solomon Burke, and Charles Bradley
This summer Lee Fields & The Expressions are back on the scene with a new record full of sweet soul music! Entitled Emma Jean in honor of Lee’s late mother, this record finds the band incorporating more elements of Folk and Gospel into their sound more then they have in the past. In fact, the album’s first single is a soulful version of the J.J. Cale tune “Magnolia”. Sounding a little like Solomon Burke, Lee croons his way through this Folk classic with help from pedal-steel guitar master Russ Pahl. While the song is stylistically a little different then songs Lee and his band have done in the past, they still sound great. That being said, Emma Jean has something for everyone. Fans of classic hard-soul will enjoy songs like “In the Woods” and “Stone Angel” while fans of the teary-eyed ballads will have a new favorite song in “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. The album’s standout track however is the piano-driven “Eye to Eye”. In this song the band sways back and forth while Lee pleads with his lover to take him back. Singing like his life depends on it, Lee is clearly still at the top of his game. For a guy who’s been releasing music since 1969, this album might be his crowning achievement.
SONNY KNIGHT AND THE LAKERS: I’M STILL HERE Secret Stash Records
For fans of: James Brown, Otis Clay, Lee Fields, and Dyke & The Blazers
Sonny Knight has been part of the Minnesota music scene for over 50 years. Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Sonny moved to St. Paul, Minnesota with his family when he was only 7 years old. In his early teens he became involved with the local doo-wop scene and sang with a number of groups before eventually cutting his first single, “Tears On My Pillow” in 1965. Unfortunately his musical career had to be put on hold when he got drafted in to the Army and was sent to fight in Vietnam. When Sonny returned home from overseas he was unable to find consistent work as a musician. He ended up taking a full-time job as a truck driver while continuing to sing off and on with different groups during the 70’s and 80’s. Then in 2012 the Minnesota indie-label, Secret Stash Records, released the compilation album Twin Cities Funk & Soul 1964-1979. To help promote the release, Secret Stash co-founder Eric Foss put together a show featuring some of the artists that appeared on the album. One of these groups was 60’s R&B group The Valdons. As he was currently performing with members of The Valdons, Sonny was asked to participate with the band in their reunion show. While working to prepare for the show Foss became so impressed with Sonny’s talent that he signed him to Secret Stash and put together a band to back him on a solo record. Now known as Sonny Knight and The Lakers, the guys have decided to share their sound with the world by releasing what might just be the best album of 2014.
The name of the album is I‘m Still Here and the music on it is hard hitting funk! This album was recorded the way an album should be recorded, LIVE and with everybody playing together. You can hear the band feeding off each others energy on tracks like “Sonny’s Boogaloo” and “Get Up and Dance”. These guys might not have been on the scene as long as their 66 year-old front man has but they’re still seasoned pros. Label owner Foss handles the drumming duties on the record. A rock solid drummer, he keeps things steady and makes it easy for the band to fall in behind him. Songs like “Through With You” and the James Brown-esq “Juicy Lucy”, groove hard and are full of soul. The album’s strongest track might be the Stax-flavored “Hey Girl”. Sure to please dance floors everywhere, this tune makes you wonder what Wilson Pickett would have sounded like if he had been backed by the 70’s funk band Black Heat. Still, even with all these great players in the room, the star of the show is Sonny Knight. After only a few minutes of listening to him you can tell that this guy’s the REAL DEAL. Hopefully with the release of I’m Still Here he’ll get the attention he so rightly deserves.
Full of raw Funk and organic Soul, Give The People What They Wantmight be Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings finest hour. The album opens with the in-your-face sound of “Retreat”, the album’s first single, before flowing nicely into the Motown flavored “Stranger To My Happiness”. On both these tunes we hear the band swinging like never before. For all the credit we give Ms. Jones we need to also recognize the talents of her band the Dap-Kings. Able to move effortlessly from one style of music to another, these talented musicians are a big reason this album flows so well. On the Latin infused “Long Time, Wrong Time” the band leads the way with a mellow groove reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”. Tasteful playing is the name of the game here and the band finds a nice groove behind Sharon’s soulful vocals. Other stand out tracks are the beautiful ballad “Slow Down, Love” and the hard driving “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” (they bust out the tympani drums for this one). But this record is more then a collection of songs, it’s a reminder that the best things in life are worth fighting for.
In early 2012 Sharon lost her mother to cancer. On tour when her mother passed Sharon found comfort in her music. Instead of taking a break she kept performing and began working on this album. Shortly after the recording was complete she started experiencing some health problems and was diagnosed with cancer herself. Fortunately doctors caught it in time and Sharon is now cancer free! Now with a new lease on life and album to promote she’s back and able to do what she does best… and that’s GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!
Charles Bradley “Victim Of Love” Daptone/Dunham Records
If you’ve every heard Charles Bradley you know he’s the real deal. From his James Brown like scream to his energetic stage show Mr. Bradley doesn’t just sing Soul music he LIVES IT. For those who aren’t aware, Charles Bradley was discovered while working as a James Brown impersonator in clubs around Brooklyn, New York when he caught the ear of Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth. He released his debut album, NO TIME FOR DREAMING, in 2011 at the age of 63 after a lifetime of playing clubs and working odd jobs to make ends meet. The album was a success and sent Mr. Bradley on tour across the U.S., Europe, and Canada. Now at an age when most artists are slowing down the big man returns with a new album entitled VICTIM OF LOVE, his second release for Dunham/Daptone Records.
VICTIM OF LOVE finds Mr. Bradley again backed by Menahan Street Band, a group of young but seasoned players that co-wrote NO TIME FOR DREAMING with him. The album’s gritty sound isn’t much different then Mr. Bradley’s first release but as they say, if it ain’t broke why try to fix it? Mr. Bradley screams and shouts as he tells the listener about the ups and downs of real life and the band is tight while still sounding human. Tunes like “Strictly Reserved For You”, “Love Bug Blues” and “Where Do We Go From Here?” are perfectly suited for Mr. Bradley’s voice and could have sounded right at home on his last album. “You Put The Flame On Me” is an upbeat shuffle that is reminiscent of early Al Green and the title track “Victim of Love” is a beautiful love song that will become a slow dance classic. All that being said, the money-shot on this album is the album’s closer “Through The Storm”. On this balled Mr. Bradley offers thanks to those who’ve helped him through the hard times. If you’ve ever seen him perform live you know that on many occasions he ends the show by walking into the crowd and hugging members of the audience. It’s no surprise that a song of hope and love would be the song to end the second album. Here’s hoping Mr. Bradley will be around for a long time to come.
CHARLES BRADLEY & THE MENAHAN STREET BAND “No Time For Dreaming”
“No Time For Dreaming” is more than an album, it’s an autobiography about Charles Bradley. Without being preachy, Mr. Bradley and The Menahan Street Band combine soulful music along with larger than life vocals to tell the story of a man who had to work against the odds his whole life.
This is a real soul album done by real soul musicians. Although the band is tight and knows what they’re doing the real story here is the voice of Charles Bradley. Due to years of performing in dive-bars and smokey clubs his voice has aged the perfect amount for this music. You can really feel the pain in Mr. Bradley’s voice when he cries out to society to change it’s values on the tunes “Golden Rule” and “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)”. That being said, the most heartfelt vocal performance on this album might be on the track “How Long”. Around the 3 minute mark Mr. Bradley lets out a Jay Hawkins-like scream that makes you wonder if he’ll survive this song! This tune could only be sung by someone who has lived the life Charles Bradley has.
Born in Florida in 1948 and raised in Brooklyn NY, Mr. Bradley has spent the majority of his adult life on the road. Usually having to travel by way of hitch hiking, he tried to find work and establish himself as a professional musician in a number of cities across the country before ending up in California. After finding a steady job and playing gigs with pick-up bands Mr. Bradley thought he had finally found a place to call home. But as he was just about to put the down payment on his first house he was laid off from his job of 17 years. Frustrated but not accepting defeat, he gathered his belongings and returned to Brooklyn where he began performing as a James Brown impersonator in local night clubs. Going by the stage name “Black Velvet” he wowed audiences with his amazing showmanship and impressive vocal abilities. Now 51 years of age it seemed as if things were settling down for Mr. Bradley, but alas, this was not the case. One morning, while staying at his mother’s house he awoke to devastating news that his brother had been murdered by his nephew. Just when it seemed as Mr. Bradley’s life was doomed to be a life of sorrow he was visited by Gabrial Roth of Daptone Records during one of his “Black Velvet” performances. Soon there after, Mr. Bradly found himself in the Daptone Records studios recording his first single for the label “Take It As it Comes”. The single was a hit and thus began a whole new chapter in life of Charles Bradley.
But not all the songs on this album are about pain and heartbreak. “No Time For Dreamin” is an up beat funky tune that sends out a message of determination and (like the life of Charles Bradley) tells the listener that if you stay the course and work hard for what you want you can achieve your goals.