"City of Angels" (Aura Jackson and Terry Dexter) by Soul Jones

City of Angels

Starring Aura Jackson & Terry Dexter.

Los Angeles ...Today.

"Coz we up, to heat up, the night, coz I, know my homie Aura never lie"... Kanye West's playground rap introduces the song, over a Latin piano riff and a sample I've heard somewhere before, Janis Joplin maybe? No it's got to be Joni Mitchell... "Make a lot of money then I'm gonna quit, quit this Craaazzy scene" Then Aura starts to sing with a sense of conviction but also vulnerability... "Soon as my back is turned, I'm liable to get burned, I'm waiting for my turn, but now it's only words, cause I..." the Joni sample from the song 'River' plays again under the chorus, "Everyday is unrealistic, every smile is so fictitious, everybody's so pretentious coz everyone is burning bridges"

City of Angels

Starring Aura Jackson & Terry Dexter.

Los Angeles ...Today.

"Coz we up, to heat up, the night, coz I, know my homie Aura never lie"... Kanye West's playground rap introduces the song, over a Latin piano riff and a sample I've heard somewhere before, Janis Joplin maybe? No it's got to be Joni Mitchell... "Make a lot of money then I'm gonna quit, quit this Craaazzy scene" Then Aura starts to sing with a sense of conviction but also vulnerability... "Soon as my back is turned, I'm liable to get burned, I'm waiting for my turn, but now it's only words, cause I..." the Joni sample from the song 'River' plays again under the chorus, "Everyday is unrealistic, every smile is so fictitious, everybody's so pretentious coz everyone is burning bridges"

I had to pull over. When something this good hits my earhole, it's not a choice.  Even though its rush hour, the smog is heavy & the red bull has yet to kick in, I decide it's worth it. The song (a lament on the music industry) finishes and the DJ proclaims "that's the slamming new #1 on the Hot 92 Jamz playlist, Crazy. Aura Jackson is the artist, remember that name. Already a platinum songwriter her new debut album MeNu has been described by Atlantic Records as the best record they've had turned in to them in the last 20 years, wow... and if you were feeling that you're gonna love this monster too..." He cues up the next track, this time from the 2nd album by solo artist Terry Dexter, hot on the heels of a hit film she featured in called "Deliver Us from Eva". The DJ can't hold back; "Yo the switchboard lights have been going insane. That's Terry Dexter a singer that has been compared to Whitney Houston... a girl that would be a dead cert to win American Idol had she entered it, has now wrong footed everyone by hitting the airwaves with some killer soul music, unafraid to go in a different direction to her pop/rnb debut... hell I'm just gonna shut up, check this out..." The Mike City produced track Carry U pumps out the speakers. "I can't carry you no more..." an anthem, great hook and amazing vocals. Destiny's Child with soul. Am I gonna make it to work? I switch channels to KJLH and they got the US of A's latest number 1 pop song playing, Stop Breaking My Heart by Rahsaan Patterson.

Yeah I know, I took it too far. As great a song as Stop Breaking My Heart is, there's no way a great indie soul artist such as Rahsaan could be #1 in the US. There's still a long way to go before music of that quality by an indie artist hits the pinnacle on any of the major charts. But I meant every other word, LA Based artists Aura Jackson & Terry Dexter have both made stunning Soul records, though sadly neither album has seen the inside of a record shop with both projects shelved by the major record company. So you couldn't have heard these songs on mainstream/urban radio stations that are probably playing 50 Cent as we speak. Also something else I need to fess up to, the whole driving in California thing isn't true either. I was actually sitting in my Peugeot 206 going 8 miles an hour behind a tractor in the English countryside, with the rain pissing it down when I had to pull over because of those tunes.

So what happened to the albums?

Aura Jackson ‘Menu'

In Aura Jackson's case she actually had to fight the record labels off with a mic. LA Reid's Arista, Blackground & Outkast's Aquemini Records all threw their cheque books into the ring before Aura chose the home of R&B Atlantic Records. Known for being part of girl group Emage and numerous songwriting credits (which include Destiny's Child Killing Time,

Lisa Stansfield I'm Leaving & DRS with their hood doo wop classic Gangsta Lean), Aura tells me "Atlantic were happy to let me record the tracks myself and weren't disappointed. Record execs felt it was the best album they'd had turned in to them for over 20 years!"

So how come it never got released? The first proposed single was a collaboration with Andre 3000 called Number One insightful commentary on the fickle nature of the music industry didn't find favour with both Atlantic or parent label Warner Bros who were still smarting (in 2004) from the Prince court case and his 7 track, to sanction its release. Aura went back into the studio with Static (from the group Playa) and created the aforementioned Crazy, a song everybody agreed was the one to go with. Unfortunately Joni Mitchell wouldn't grant clearance for the sample (protesting against the war by refusing to support the American economy). And that was that. Having put Aura and her family up in a mansion they pulled the rug from under her and refused to release either the record or masters (though Mrs. Jackson has regained control of them now). The only song to make it out alive so far is WalkAfterU, a string soaked up-tempo soul monster that walks a fine line between 70's craft and Lucy Pearl instant vintage, without falling either side. There's also a Mercy Mercy Me style baritone sax solo to really twist the knot in a soul fans stomach, that feeling of "where's the album? I need it!" With Aura's husband Alonzo Jackson producing many of the tracks, 'Menu' the album could have had a similar impact to a release by Kelis or Lauryn Hill. Regular writing partner Raphael Saadiq helped create the catchy single contender Off Balance, as well as the disco

groover So Unusual. Other cuts that should be heard by more ears include the longing, lyrically sophisticated ballad Broken Record, frantic Andre 3000 collab Shoulda Coulda Woulda, Joi influenced Suga Daddy (produced by Jake & The Phatman), west coast funk of 'Make It Happen' and fender Rhodes laced Blaze Brah.

Terry Dexter ‘Untitled'

Terry Dexter's anticipated sophomore release was also hit by industry politics. Blessed with a voice full of emotion and a powerful range, Dexter has often been compared to Whitney & Mariah. After a promising debut (the album going for the pop/r&b dollar) Terry hit the charts on a duet with Eric Benet called Spend My Life With You (different to the Tamia version). This success prompted Terry to want to make an album with more of a soulful edge. So it was withfull backing from her label A&M that Terry set off to work with Mike City & Raphael Saadiq. The results were mouth watering. The previously mentioned Mike City production Carry U was mooted as the first single, along with the Two Way Street a trademark bass led Saadiq track with sing-along hook (co written by Aura, Jake & The Phatman). It was around this time that Terry was asked to feature in the latest LL Cool J film "Deliver Us from Eva" a hit that also claimed 'Two Way Street', Everything was looking up, as Terry herself put it, "I got a really cool groundswell from that, respect from fans old and new because it was the first record I released with Raphael and people hadn't heard me do that kind of stuff" With 6 songs in the bag via Saadiq/Whiskey Slew and another 2 Mike City cuts Terry was receiving a lot of love from the label. Mike City was on awesome form, penning songs as good as those he contributed to Carl Thomas's first set. You'll Never Find Is 10% Prince, 15% Mary J's ‘Real Love' and 75% Terry singing her heart out. Company a Saadiq cut, features a wholehearted vocal from Ray Ray and beautiful harmonies on the chorus. Take a Minute is another potential promo, a classic whiskey slew beat ballad a la D'angelo/Badu. Terry's reluctant to get into the nitty gritty of what went down with the label, preferring to leave it in the past but she offered a hint of the reasons for the album stalling in development, "Once you've sorted out who contributed what through writing and producing you realise that it all cost a lot of money and the A&R person that signed you only 2 months before has left or gotten fired. So you're left with an expensive project that the new A&R guy might not connect with, he'll then tell you "I really don't understand what you're doing" and that's it."

The role of an A&R exec appears to have changed if you reside in entertainment centres such as LA or New York. It's no longer about creativity behind the music, but rather what kind of contract the exec can structure. Be careful if it's a "development" deal. An example of this is highly rated teenager CJ, signed to Capitol, I've heard people compare him to an old Marvin Gaye and that's saying something. The Whiskey Slew set up produced the Motown'ish Change Everything & Girl Tonite (co-written by Aura). Both of which show a world class soul artist in waiting but Capitol want the next Ne-Yo so they've put CJ's release on hold whilst he "develops". Also development is short term, like being one of the ten finalists on American idol/X factor. Sure you get prestige for 6 months, food & fine vines but what happens if you don't win? Will you keep the clothes? Possibly. Will your album be released? Probably not. An A&R man appears to be judged on finding new acts, signing them and working with the artist until the music produced matches that of singers currently achieving success from a rival major label. If they don't get what they're looking for, the project then becomes an expensive liability. So the music the artist has invested their heart and soul into gets packed away like the ark in the last scene of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark'.

When speaking to both Aura & Terry for this article I was struck by how philosophical they both were about their previous employers and the industry as a whole. As a fan I struggle to keep my cool, just like hearing a pre-release on the radio that you can't wait to own and experiencing the anxiety of not having the music, well its even worse hearing great songs that may never be heard outside of your car/bedroom/headphones. Aura Jackson & Terry Dexter are due a proper album release launch party. Because of this you're all invited round my gaff to have a listen. You may have to knock loudly on the door though. I've been known to daydream about living in the City of Angels when listening to inspiring soul music...

www.myspace.com/aurajackson

Aura is currently working with Dr. Dre's Aftermath Music and lives in Los Angeles

www.myspace.com/terrydextermusic

Terry has finished work on the national theatre performance ‘In the Nick of Tyme' featuring songs by Vivian Green. She's completed work on a Soul album (which includes the amazing ‘Disappointed') and also has a project collaboration with Roy Davis Jr ready to drop.

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Dan Dodds (aka Soul Jones) lives in Maidstone, England. Soul music hit him out of the blue whilst he was doing Art homework, ‘What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye was on the stereo and it was the first time he experienced goosebumps listening to a cassette ... the homework was handed in late. In print, he writes for the UK's now longest running black music magazine Echoes, online he managed the content for Underground-Soul.com & helped run Raphael Saadiq's Pookie Entertainment Website for over 4 years. He also works as a freelance A&R/Licensing consultant, with credits including his own album ‘Soul & The City' focusing on the indie NY Soul Scene, ‘We Can Do Whatever' by Otis & Shugg, ‘Best Kept Secret EP' by TL Cross, ‘Soul Togetherness 2006' (Various Artists) & ‘Underground Soul Vol.1' (Various Artists). His wife is expecting his first child, though she's ruled out Soul Jones Jr as a name. He can be found at www.myspace.com/souljones 

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