Matthew Shell - Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning (2015)

Matthew Shell
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Matthew Shell - Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning

One of the things that remained with me after watching “20 Feet From Stardom,” the documentary about the largely black female backing vocalists who provided the vocal foundation to pop, rock and soul music’s greatest hits, was hearing several of them talk about the toll that the move away from using backing vocalists on recordings that began in the 1990s had on them professionally. That’s around the time that technology allowed producers to correct vocal imperfections and executives looked for places to cut costs. Suddenly, back-up singers who had successful careers as studio musicians stopped getting phone calls.

Matthew Shell - Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning

One of the things that remained with me after watching “20 Feet From Stardom,” the documentary about the largely black female backing vocalists who provided the vocal foundation to pop, rock and soul music’s greatest hits, was hearing several of them talk about the toll that the move away from using backing vocalists on recordings that began in the 1990s had on them professionally. That’s around the time that technology allowed producers to correct vocal imperfections and executives looked for places to cut costs. Suddenly, back-up singers who had successful careers as studio musicians stopped getting phone calls.

And if you listen to contemporary pop music, you can go a long time before hearing a tune that has the complex and tight vocal harmonies hear on the Matthew Shell’s new project Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning. Look, I grew up in the 1970s when the backing singer’s response was often as well-known as the lead singer’s call. Don’t believe me, then Google the “The Pips without Gladys Knight” routine from The Richard Pryor Show (yes a major TV network actually gave Richard Pryor a variety show, and it actually aired during ‘family’ time). So when folks these days lament some of the things that are missing from contemporary pop music, I say the absence of real back-up singers in the studio is definitely one of them.

The best example of what strong backing vocals can do for a song comes through on Shell’s remake of Jacob Whitesides’ “Not My Type At All.” Whitesides employs backing vocals on the original, but Shell brings in strings to give the cover a classical sound, and the backing vocals from Samantha Gunney seem to float like a vapor just above Vicu Schek’s lead vocals, endowing the track with a more open, expressive and, I think, enjoyable sound.

Those backing vocals also benefit from having lyrics that manage to be accessible and well crafted. That is the case on “My Baby,” a mid-tempo duet featuring IhsAn Bilal, Honore' and rapper D.C. Don Juan, as well as the rock guitar driven track “Crime Never Sleeps,” and the up-tempo “Dance Shake,” a track that is set off by the myriad of voices that play off the Chic-inspired violins heard during the song’s hook.

Not everything on Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning works. The instrumentals “Just Wanna” and “Pep in Our Step” sound repetitive. However, Shell show himself to be a creative and versatile leader in this many-handed project, and the result is a disc that covers a lot of territory in a very enjoyable fashion – and that never goes wrong when somebody is in front of the mic. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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