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.
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.