Beverley Knight - Soul UK (2011)

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    To the SoulTracks family, the name Beverley Knight may sound familiar.

    Hailing from Wolverhampton in the UK, Knight was one of a group soul singers  who emerged in the 1990s and helped soul music have a presence whilst popular music was all about grunge and alternative rock.  If Omar, Mica Paris, Loose Ends and Soul II Soul were the Kings and Queens of UK soul music, then Knight was a Princess in line to ascend the throne.  With a strong, soaring voice like a seasoned gospel singer, large doe eyes, a knockout figure and a warm personality, Knight became a darling to fans of UK soul and R&B.  Along the way, Knight sang with Redman, Wyclef Jean, Lionel Richie, Jocelyn Brown and Chaka Khan and was featured on the 2004 charity hit single ‘Do They Know Its Christmas,” along with a variety of the current pop stars.  Whilst the aforementioned kings and queens have continued to make music or diversify onto other projects, Knight is one of the few UK soul stars who has remained in the musical spotlight and kept her career going -- but at a cost. With the release of her album Affirmation, Knight extended her soundsimply soul music, but like many others before her she was labelled by some as “selling out” to gain more popularity.  However, her gamble paid off, and Knight moved into a category and position that not many black singers are able to enjoy; real crossover appeal to all ages and races, and the crown of Queen of UK Soul. 

    Given her royal title, its ironic and touching that on her new album, Soul UK, Knight goes back to the hit singles of UK artists such as Omar, Soul II Soul, Jackie Graham, and Junior Giscombe, and gives them a new lease on life.  Soul II Soul’s “Fairplay” opens up the album, with the legendary Jazzie B introducing Knight in his always unique style.  Knight sticks closely to the original production, and in the chorus her vocal rises magnificently with a tight horn section, showcasing what a vocal powerhouse she is.  Knight is able to hold her own against the live instrumentation that is featured throughout the album, and ther is not a hint of autotune to be found.  Her version of Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” is the highlight of the album and joy to hear. Luther Vandross may have done the best cover of the track, but Knight may well be my favourite female interpreter; five and a half minutes of heaven.  Again sticking close to the original production Knight is able to keep the balance of making the song intimate and meaningful, and not turning the song into complete mush with unnecessary vocal acrobatics. 

    Knight does not, however, get the thumbs up for the entire project.  Given the emphasis of soul in all aspects of the song choice, some of Knight’s interpretations are bordering on soul-less.  Roachford’s “Cuddly Toy” in its original form was an edgy, fast paced, track bristling with heavy guitar and electric keyboards matching his incessant plea for his cuddly toy.  Knight’s version sounds like a Motown revue rendition, with none of the edge which made the original exciting and unique.  Similarly the dark, funky groove that accompanied Carleen Anderson’s voice on “Apparently Nothin’” has been replaced here by a more laid back and bland version.   Even the rap by Roots Manuva does little to save this track, which is a shame.  It would be understandable if this version was among a group of remixes of the song, but given its album feature it does disappoint. 

    Omar’s “There’s Nothing Like This” is given lots of sensual attention; Knight smolders over the track like an inviting rug in front of a roaring fire. The vocals of Michael Jai add a delightful element too, and showcase another UK artist hopefully destined for a bright future.  Knight’s renditions of Lewis Taylor’s “Damn,” Loose Ends’ “Don’t be A Fool,” and George Michael’s “One More Try” are amongst other very good interpretations, and in all cases Knight sticks close to the original production to achieve this.

    It is hard for me to sum up in words what this album means to British music fans like myself.  Roachford, Lewis Taylor, George Michael, Princess, Soul II Soul, Omar, Jamiroquai, Freeez, Young Disciples, Junior Giscombe, Heatweave and Jackie Graham all had varying levels of success in the 1980s and 90s; some global and some not so much.  Some became millionaires and are still highly visible today, whilst others stepped out of the spotlight.  Whatever the case their music left a huge imprint and legacy, which Knight celebrates on this album.  Whilst the album left me wanting in some places I salute, applaud and praise Knight for making this album.  Firstly because it serves to educate some newer soul music fans that UK had a strong presence in soul music which has in some ways been forgotten or overlooked in favour of what America sends our way.  Some of the song choices on this album were not the big hits that made it to #1 in the UK chart or received global recognition; indeed some were hidden gems by artists that never got the true credit they deserved.  Secondly, this album has shown that Knight has guts to match her vocal power.  Songs by Omar, Soul II Soul and Loose Ends are seen by many as sacred and attempting to cover them is something not taken lightly.  However Knight has stepped up to the microphone and delivered the songs in her own way, giving new lease of life to the songs. 

    Overall this is a good album, which should be successful with mainstream audiences.  If you vividly remember the originals or have memories linked to the originals then you may want to listen to this album with caution and an open mind.  I believe it could have been a better album, and Knight could have taken it to more soulful places in her production.  But the one thing that never failed was Knight’s voice, and for anyone who has seen her perform live you can’t help but be amazed at what she is capable of.  As a bonus, this release includes a DVD of her singing the songs from the album live with a full band.  Whilst the album may have you pondering, the DVD is musical dynamite and that alone I assure you is worth 100% of your cash.  And so it is for this reason that for another season Knight will retain her crown as Queen of UK soul. Recommended.

    By Ricardito