Not For Ordinary People is unabashedly and proudly a record that could have been released in 1979. The album sports lush arrangements that fuse those essential funk elements of an aggressive bass line and power packed horns. That’s not surprising considering that brothers PIppo and Beppe Lombardo identify Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, The Commodores and Stevie Wonder as major influences. And I’d imagine – after hearing the bossa nova sway of “Time Fades Away” - that the Brazilian Sergio Mendes is another influence.
All of that makes Not For Ordinary People quite the risky endeavor. “Risky,” you ask? How can this project be risky considering that it features 13 tracks of the sound that millions of soul fans want so desperately to hear? The risk is that a project such as this will come off as derivative and overly sentimental and will draw comparisons to another band leader with the surname Lombardo.
That does not happen because Not For Ordinary People is such a well-conceived project from start to finish. The record contains a nice balance of up-tempo and mid-tempo tracks to go along with a couple of excellent ballads. We’ll start with the slow jams because that seems to be such a lost art in mainstream R&B. “Nobody Else” sports a simple but sturdy melody that can easily handle the tune’s amalgamation of blues, funk and jazz. Vocalist Serena Brancale’s dreamy vocals contain inflections and a way of dragging out notes and singing slightly behind the melody that bring to mind Corrine Bailey Rae.
“She” starts with Brancale accompanied by an acoustic guitar before the cut jumps into a Caribbean groove that features horns and steel drums. “My Heart” is a dance number featuring a rolling bass and snapping horns. The interplay captures tension in lyrics that tell the story of a suspicious woman and straying man: “Here we go again telling lies / now can’t believe it / feel it in my heart, you denied it / Just don’t try it / Can’t believe it / Feel it in my heart / say you work late / don’t wait up dear / Should have known it / feel it in my heart.”
In a sense, the album’s title sounds kind of elitist. An alternate view is that the band recognizes the reality of modern music production. In the 1970s, big R&B and funk bands were ordinary. Now, we’re told and that the R&B listener wants doesn’t want to hear bands, and the R&B band became all but extinct in mainstream R&B. That makes a group such as Camera Soul – and the music they make - pretty extraordinary. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes