Various Artists - The Contemporary Soul Songbook Volume 2

Various Artists
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Phil Driver has returned with another collection of artists of varying ages and various takes on soul music.  As detailed in the liner notes, this time around the women open and close the collection, and in between are men with love of their minds and warm sentiments on their lips.  Whilst I am sure it was not his intention, in my mind the gauntlet had been thrown down to establish who was going to excite me more, the men or the women?

The collection opens with the mid tempo "I've Got A Feeling" by Marilyn Ashford Brown, who asks us what's going on with some of the issues in our society like housing, greedy crooks, gangs and shootings. Rather than simply leave us with the question Marilyn assures that things are going to be alright with the closing chant "Obama's in the house".  Inobe's "Front Porch" is a funky little track about sitting out front and getting inspired. Ms. Monique, however, is the first to sing about the dramas of love.  "Mr Do Right" hits the spot, bringing the worldly wisdom of an older sister, and the soulful maturity of aunty Aretha Franklin.

From here the men take over, starting with the vocally pleasant Thomas Hunter on "Strong Love," reminding us how strong love is essential to keep a relationship together.  Now Barry White and Isaac Hayes may have passed away, but Cornelius MD gets the crown as their replacement in my book with his track "Step".  Lush strings, sexy horns, and crisp backing vocals form part of the magic of this song about the demise of a relationship and the request for the lady to step.  I thought the battle at this point had been won, and I could just relax and enjoy the rest of the collection.  Governor's "Decisions" poses a question that many a young man may have asked himself: whether to settle down with a woman or play around a little more?  Governor's strong voice and tight production are a highlight in this collection. Similarly "Wishin'" by Da Wonda Twinz featuring Redd Soul with its deep bass and falsetto singing provides a modern soul track that would work in a club, car or the bedroom.

Despite all this strong male presence on this collection, when it comes to the standout track the guys are blown away by the talented Orly. "Sit Back" is seductive, sophisticated, confident, and will melt any jazz or soul fan. As a fan of live instrumentation, I found the production on this track to be faultless, as Orly's vocals drift effortlessly over them asking us to sit back and think of her kiss.  I could have listened to that track all day; that 5 minute morsel just was not enough.  If its silky vocals you want, then "Brand New Day" by South Afrcia's Asanda Bam is the fix. This track could easily slip onto any soul/smooth jazz playlist.  The liner notes describe Gemma Genazzano as "the intelligent man's Shakira"; well I'm intelligent enough to know that Shakira has some serious competition on her hands with this fine woman.  "Take Me Away" truly enticed and took me away with her Spanish lyrics, horns and strings.  Despite my inability to know what the words meant, the track highlighted how universal quality music is, and how you immediately know it when you hear it.

This is an enjoyable album, and builds on the roads Volume 1 paved.  I discovered some outstanding new artists, heard tracks that blew me away, and got some sound wisdom that had me nodding to my stereo.  Whilst I enjoyed this collection more than its predecessor, I still think that contemporary soul has more to offer, and I challenge Mr Driver to continue search for more quality independent soul.  He has shown an ability to unearth hidden gems on Volumes 1 and 2, which whets my thirst for even more of what is out there, somewhere.  Recommended.

By Ricardito

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