More than a dozen years ago, the UK was teeming with hot sounds of house and acid jazz bands ranging from Soul II Soul to Incognito. And while those bands had a limited run of major commercial success in the US, there has continued to be a loyal audience on both sides of the Atlantic for dance music that combines elements of soul, jazz and house. We were blessed in the last couple years with brilliant albums by New York-based trio Tortured Soul and Atlanta's Jiva, each of which in its own way (Tortured Soul coming from the house side and Jiva coming from the jazz side) delivered the goods by combining top notch songwriting and production with fine musicianship and a sense of the dance floor. Our latest listening pleasure in that vein is Reel People, a UK band that has now revamped and reissued its extremely enjoyable debut album, Second Guess.
Consisting principally of producer/DJ Oli Lazarus and multi-instrumentalist Mike Patto, Reel People puts a premium on songwriting, delivering melodic gems and then serving them with strong instrumentation and a series of well-chosen guest vocalists. And the formula works wonderfully on Second Guess.
Any of at least a half dozen songs on Second Guess could be club hits. The album opens with "The Rain," an infectious cut featuring singer Sharlene Hector and a killer hook. But the quality material continues song after song, with styles ranging from the Heatwave-like cover "You Used to Hold Me So Tight," to the soulful dance number "Can't Stop" and the brilliant Stevie Wonder-influenced title track (highlighted by the fine vocal performance of Jag). One of our current favorite singers, Angela Johnson, fronts three of the album's songs, and they're all gems. Second Guess takes her even further onto the dance floor than her Cooly's Hot Box albums, and she shows a funky-diva side that nicely contrasts the adult soul orientation of her solo albums.
Fact is, there isn't a bad cut on the Second Guess, and an added pleasure is a bonus disc that includes alternate or live mixes of eight cuts. The addition on the album's 2006 reissue of "The Rain" and "You Used to Hold Me So Tight" has turned this from a very good album to nearly essential for lovers of soulful dance music. A real treat, and highly recommended.
by Chris Rizik