Various Artists - The Urban Soul Connection Vol 1.

Various Artists
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Hot on the heels of Contemporary Soul Songbook, Soul Unsigned Records release what will hopefully be the first in a new series entitled The Urban Soul Connection.  14 tracks which label owner Phil Driver describes as "...straight-up soul tracks that just happen to have a rap in the middle".  But what exactly is urban these days?  Is it simply a category thought up by the powers that be at record labels to pigeonhole more artists? Is it another way to open up the field for soulful artists that were caught in the gap between r&b and pop? Or is it something else? Who knows, that's another debate for another day. 

Hot on the heels of Contemporary Soul Songbook, Soul Unsigned Records release what will hopefully be the first in a new series entitled The Urban Soul Connection.  14 tracks which label owner Phil Driver describes as "...straight-up soul tracks that just happen to have a rap in the middle".  But what exactly is urban these days?  Is it simply a category thought up by the powers that be at record labels to pigeonhole more artists? Is it another way to open up the field for soulful artists that were caught in the gap between r&b and pop? Or is it something else? Who knows, that's another debate for another day. 

This series is very different from the others in the Soul Unsigned repertoire, which were more on the funky or soulful side.  Whilst on initial listen I found a sparseness in some of the production, and little in way if live instrumentation, what I could not deny was that on most tracks there was definitely a passion in the artists' delivery or lyrical interpretation of a story.  Yes there were tracks that, after the listening to for one minute I was ready to skip to the next, but when I decided instead to be patient I found as the track progressed I was actually enjoying it by the end. 

Fans of live instrumentation may not appreciate this album.  Similarly if you prefer tracks to immediately grab with within 30 seconds, then again you may struggle at times with this album.  However I encourage you to wait, because on virtually every track that patience is rewarded.  Abrina's "So Out", Lino Krizz's "My Life Iz On You", Brooke Taylor's "When This Feeling" and Angel B featuring Bobby Mileage on "Soul Deep" are examples of this, which all take a while to warm up.  However listen to the lyrical content, listen to the vocal, and listen to the beat for a while and you begin to really enjoy it.   There are standout tracks however that will immediately grab the listener, like the potential ladies anthem "Tonight" by Ms Monique, "Anguish, Love & Romance" by Soul Unsigned returnees The New Congress featuring hip hop star Talib Kweli, and also "In Your Dreams" by J. Red.  There is no specific similarity between these tracks besides perhaps their mid tempo beats, and pleasant vocals and melodies.  In fact it is sometimes to their detriment because they have so much radio potential it takes more effort to actually stop to listen to the lyrical content.  This was however not the case when it came to my favourite track, the deliciously dirrty (yes so dirty it deserves another consonant) "Remix" by Jaye-O.  The opening bars immediately set the tone to this bedroom damager; I'll leave you to guess what it's all about.  There was a jazz tinge from Cherri Price featuring Mangaliso Asi on their track "Just Say Hi", bringing a new element to the album -- it would have been interesting if there were a few other tracks to continue this. 

The album is likeable and there a number of gems on it, however it does require some patience, especially as there isn't huge amount of diversity in pace when compared to other Soul Unsigned compilations.  There are, however, some talented singers and songwriters, and tracks to take you from the club to the bedroom to the church in less than an hour.  There is room for growth in this series, which I believe Phil Driver has the patience and catalogue to fulfill.  In the meantime, check out the album and let it grow on you.

By Ricardito

 

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