Various Artists - The Contemporary Soul Songbook, Vol. 1 (2009)

Various Artists
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Regular readers of SoulTracks will know that I am a big fan of Soul Unsigned Records, and have sung the praises of their two EP's and two full length albums of unsigned artists.  Whilst we are awaiting the next volume, label owner Phil Driver has released a new CD entitled The Contemporary Soul Songbook Vol. One, focusing on modern soul acts.  The start of the liner notes on The Contemporary Soul Songbook Vol. One  reads: "Browse around a High Street record store these days and you could be forgiven for thinking that contemporary soul music ended after Anita Baker, Luther Vandross and Alexander O'Neal...
Regular readers of SoulTracks will know that I am a big fan of Soul Unsigned Records, and have sung the praises of their two EP's and two full length albums of unsigned artists.  Whilst we are awaiting the next volume, label owner Phil Driver has released a new CD entitled The Contemporary Soul Songbook Vol. One, focusing on modern soul acts.  The start of the liner notes on The Contemporary Soul Songbook Vol. One  reads: "Browse around a High Street record store these days and you could be forgiven for thinking that contemporary soul music ended after Anita Baker, Luther Vandross and Alexander O'Neal... are there any artists still out there, regardless of the colour of their skin, still making quality soul music?"  It's not a trick question, but with the melange of all the genre crossovers and clever marketing out there today, it's not hard for quality soul singers to get lost and left behind. 

There are some gems on The Contemporary Soul Songbook CD from a number of emerging artists of varying stripes.  Ironically the oldest track on the CD is one of the best, "Tongue Tide" by Lisa Zuré.   Having listened to the track at 20 times I still have no idea what Lisa is singing about but I know I am still  hypnotized by the smoky vocals that at times remind me of Chaka Khan, and the seductive saxophone played by Vince Lars.  This for me is an example of what timeless soulful music is about, a breath of fresh air that contrasts with some the computer generated tracks around today.  "Phenomenal Woman" by Fola alludes to the world famous poem by Maya Angelou of the same title, but here it's in the context of the modern woman who fascinates her man.  Set to a jazzy groove and melodic saxophone, her man may not be the only one fascinated by this track.  "India" by Eddie Sea is an up-tempo yet laid back track, telling us about this mystery woman who appeared and utterly transfixed him.  "Lost Paradise" by Jua creates a surprise as he is singing so sweetly when he says "when you look at me I hope you feel hurt." Ouch!  If you have ever heard "My Ex-girlfriend" by Tony! Toni! Toné you will know exactly what I mean -- how a melody and tone can be saying one thing, but the words saying something else.  Either way it is another beautiful track, as are "Can't Settle For Less" by Tracey Harris, "Natural Vibe" by Tammy Harris, the uplifting "I'm Staying Home Tonight" by Ashanti Muir, "Living For Today" by LeNora Jaye and "Saying Less" by the sexy funky Nash Reed.

To answer Mr Driver's question? Yes there are soul singers still out there, though they're not necessarily on this disc.  The song selections on The Contemporary Soul Songbook point toward a focus on romantic, wind down adult music, and in that regard is extremely enjoyable.  Other than cuts featuring the rich vocal tones of Donald Sheffey and the previously mentioned, remarkable Lisa Zuré, this album generally isn't necessarily what I would consider a modern soul music collection.  Had other tracks from the same artists been selected the resulting overall feel of the disc could have been entirely different and more on point for soul music audiences. 

So enjoy this album for what it is, rather than what you may have expected. There is still a lot to like here.  And let it encourage you to check out some of the other songs by the talented artists whose music is included in The Contemporary Soul Songbook, Vol. 1.  Well done once again Mr Driver. I look forward to what you will do with Volume 2. 

By Ricardito

 

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