Various Artists - The So Soulful Collection

Various Artists
Various Artists The So Soulful Collection.jpg
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For those who remember the days of walking into a record store to purchase music, The So Soulful Collection, with its cover photo depicting vinyl albums cascading on shelves piled high, will evoke fond memories. The disc makes you pine for an almost forgotten era when the physical aspect of record buying was part of the whole musical experience  -- long before downloads and streaming revolutionized the industry making music  available at the touch of a button. Who could forget listening to the radio and rushing out to buy the latest release, and the excitement of shifting through the racks, before going home to play and proudly display your latest treasure?

For those who remember the days of walking into a record store to purchase music, The So Soulful Collection, with its cover photo depicting vinyl albums cascading on shelves piled high, will evoke fond memories. The disc makes you pine for an almost forgotten era when the physical aspect of record buying was part of the whole musical experience  -- long before downloads and streaming revolutionized the industry making music  available at the touch of a button. Who could forget listening to the radio and rushing out to buy the latest release, and the excitement of shifting through the racks, before going home to play and proudly display your latest treasure?

Heralded as the pre-eminent soul compilation of the year, this much parleyed collection brings together exclusive, unreleased tracks from some of independent soul’s most popular artists. As striking as it is impressive, The So Soulful Collection is truly an international affair, featuring artists from Australia, France, Italy, and both the U.K and U.S. Compiler So Soulful, aka D.J Jai, who commands steadfast enthusiasts with his popular U.K based Saturday Soul Sessions podcast, should be commended for his stellar job in amassing a stable of thoroughbred artists who help contribute to what is a most stunning release.  

What’s so remarkable about this prodigious assemblage, aside from it shedding a well-deserved spotlight on the music of indie artists, is that the independent singers featured within not only implement the traditional elements of classic soul but also retain the artistic edge over some of R&B’s better known artists. Indeed, the mission statement for independent artist everywhere could be summed up in one of the songs featured on this collection, Timotha Lanae’s acoustic guitar-led  ”Be You”: “Don’t listen to what folks say baby/ don’t ever change/ you’re beautiful like you are/ all you have to is just be you.” With unobtrusive majesty and impeccable phrasing, Lanae subtly sweeps through the song’s simplistic, yet anthemic message as her captivatingly beautiful voice and melodic line recall British soul singer Kele Le Roc’s late nineties hit, “My Love.”

With the disc comprised of a rather daunting twenty tracks, it’s only natural that there will be peaks and valleys, but almost every track on So Soulful is a sure-fire winner recalling the halcyon moments of the golden epoch of 70s and 80s soul.

The So Soulful Collection opens with Loretta and Leon Showman, who set the bar high with the mournful and devastatingly poignant, “Give it Up.” Commanding instant attention, the solemn and dense piano intro lets you know that you are about to hear something extra-special. The heart-rendering and almost unbearable sorrow that the two incredible expressive singers convey will have you reaching for the playback button.

From the grief-stricken to the philosophical, Italy’s Al Castellana, a forerunner of the Italian soul music scene, wraps his syrupy falsetto around the glistening and liquefied “Lucky Man,” capturing the classic vocal styling’s of Ted “Wizard” Mills, one time lead singer of the classic vocal group Blue Magic.

Also represented are British artists Chidi and Don-E. Coming to prominence in 1992 with the international hit “Love Makes the World Go Round” Don-E, who regularly performs in Grace Jones’s touring band, serves up the pulsating and thudding “Feelin’ U,” while Chidi, whose mostrecent album Exhale received plaudits from critics and fans alike, lucidly emotes on the cooling “Do That Thing You Do.”

One of the brightest moments of The So Soulful Collection comes from the velvety-voiced Les Dion, who conjures up the magic of  80s soul singer Curtis Hairston, adding a touch of sparkle with the exuberant playfulness of the smart and plush “Glowing Tonight.” It’s at this moment when you suddenly realize that this marathon collection is mostly a male-dominated affair, a trend that continues with Ty Causey, whose mellifluous voice earned him a Song of the Year nomination award from SoulTracks in 2012. With the swanky “Strollin,” Causey brings to the collection what could be best described as a mid-tempo and modern day version of The Blackbryds’ “Rock Creek Park.”

Continuing the testosterone level, Teddy Pendergrass sound-alike Fil Straughan mourns his way through the nocturnally woeful “It Never Rains,” while Pittsburgh native Tanek Montgomery provides the slow-grind bump of the uncompromising “No Favors.”.

The So Soulful Collection is an R&B fan’s dream, running the gamut of passions and emotions, and is more than well-deserving of the high praise it has received from soul’s many quarters. Filled with peerless musicianship and exceptional voices, itreminds us that the spirited and truly gifted still roam free through music’s often bleak landscape to enchant and delight us. To quote Cleveland P. Jones (a diamond in the rough of 21st Century R&B), who makes an appearance on the planetary and mystical “Surrender to Love,” “It’s the things that you do.” And what this compilation shows us is that these exceptional artists do just that, and they do it tremendously well.  Highly Recommended.

By Garry Moran

 

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