The reverence that Toriano, the mastermind behind ensemble Soul Basement has for American blues, soul, funk and jazz is evident on the group's latest recording, The Awakening of the Heart. The album consists of nine original recordings that serve as a review of soul music in all of its funky diversity. The group could have recorded an album of covers of funk, Southern soul, R&B and neo-soul songs. Instead, they opted to record new tunes in these genres. In doing so, Soul Basement runs the risk of cutting an album that makes a lame attempt at recapturing what some believe is a distant past. For the most part, The Awakening of the Heart is an album that rises far above those mediocre expectations.
The record starts out strong with American born soul man Marlon Saunders giving the listener a sensual and gritty piece of Southern fried soul on the tune "Wanna Make it Easy." Saunders wraps a great vocal around a driving bass and soulful organ that literally begs listeners to flip on the blue light in that soul basement and commence with the belly rubbin'.
Saunders than flips the script on the up-tempo funky number "What Can I Do (To Make You Mine)." The ultra smooth tune "Just Groovin'" has the feel of a Whispers jam from the mid 1980s. However, the lead singer is British soul crooner Keni Stevens. While the bass man hits us with some steamy and grooving funk on the first two cuts, he lays back on "Just Groovin.'" That bass performance finds its compliment in Stevens' smooth tenor and the grown and sexy lyrics.
Combining spoken word with R&B had a rebirth in the early part of this decade with the work of Floetry and other similar groups. Soul Basement takes on spoken word with the songs "Sends Me Higher" and "Proud Lady." Domekno Cheri Jonez's contribution, the sensual spoken word ballad "Sends Me Higher," is the stronger of the two, as is definitely for mature audiences. "On Proud Lady," vocalist GenieQ encourages a friend to go out on the town and have some fun after a hard day at work. These two songs sum up The Awakening of the Heart. The first five songs on this CD are far more compelling than the last four. However, those first five songs are so good, that there's no way anyone will feel cheated after buying this album.
By Howard Dukes