Groove Theory - Groove Theory (1995) | Return To The Classics

Last year rumours that the original line up of one of the '90s finest R&B outfits, Groove Theory were to reunite, tantalised the internet soul fraternity. The collaborative fruits of the impossibly attractive, not to mention talented duo of ex-Mantronix producer Bryce Wilson and bohemian songbird Amel Larrieux had been sorely missed since they first hit the scene in the mid-'90s. Besides the odd live date played in Japan, the official comeback is still to properly materialise. I, for one, wait with bated breath. The original GT might have only one studio album and a handful of soundtrack appearances to their name but it is more than enough to appreciate their singular contribution to the '90s musical landscape.
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Commissioned - Matters of the Heart (1994) | Return To The Classics

It’s hard to select a Commissioned album for classic review. Formed at the cusp of the 1980s, the standard of this Gospel super-group’s back catalogue is so high, any one of their pre-1999 albums could be analysed in depth for their timeless appeal.

Nevertheless, 1994’s Matters of the Heart is noteworthy for a few reasons. It was the first album recorded without erstwhile mainstay Keith Staten; he of the operatic style that should have been out of place in a soul outfit but somehow strangely fitted in.

It was the last studio album that Gospel legend Fred Hammond, one of the original and most pre-eminent members of the line up, recorded with his old band. Hammond had already released at least one solo project at this stage-‘I am persuaded’-but joined his soul brothers one more time for his Commissioned swan song.
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The King's Will - As The Power Fails | Album Review

Oxbridge law graduate turned poet, football pundit and all-round ideal dinner guest Musa Okwonga joins forces with composer, producer, artist and mathematician, Giles Hayter. These two renaissance men record under the name of The King’s Will, dubbing their sound ‘Poetronica.’ The regal appellation is in reference to Okwonga and Hayter’s animated alter egos, the Fool and the Vassal; devoted subjects of a once compassionate but now despotic and extravagant King.

Loosely based on King Lear, the monarch of the title is an allegory for a society in self-inflicted distress, not unlike our own. On their debut album As the Power Fails the King’s Will discuss challenges both global (climate change, the dangers of ‘group-think’, devious marketing ploys) and personal (resilience in the face of adversity, ill-fated romance, personal growth).
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Michael Jackson - Bad (1987) | Return To The Classics

It beggars belief that today will make it two years since Michael Jackson passed. It’s no less shocking even after all this time.

Once in a while I’ll get a hankering to listen to one of the three classic albums he made with Quincy Jones between the late 1970s and late '80s. Recently it was the turn of Bad: an album I’ve dubbed in the past as Michael’s best ‘pop’ album. And it is unabashedly pop.

Having shown signs on Thriller of moving away from the pure funk/soul rhythms of Off the Wall, with Bad Jackson and Jones threw themselves wholeheartedly into the more commercial, synthesised sounds that characterised that particular decade.

There was a noticeable absence of the sweet soul contributions from Brit maestro Rod Temperton with whom Quincy and Michael had made such beautiful music before. No doubt many saw this as selling out to a degree but if they were going to soften their sound, my goodness, Bad was the way to go about it.
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Introducing... Rachel K. Collier: Swansea, Soul & Sunshine | Interview

I’m backstage at the former Sex Pistols’ haunt, ‘Spice of Life’ in Soho, London with 24-year-old, Welsh-born chanteuse Rachel K. Collier. Her eight piece band is dotted around the venue, waiting to start their set. Currently on stage are sibling duo Qiku; a sort of half-Japanese Wendy & Lisa. As their lovely sound filters through the walls Rachel and I are trying not to get distracted. Miss Collier herself is as effervescent off stage as she is on which I’m to find out later. The languid Swansea vowels are almost at odds with her rapid speech pattern and demonstrative body language.

Rachel has been composing songs since she was 11. When I ask if she remembers the first one she wrote she goes one better and treats me to a sweet, impromptu rendition... All the blue skies, and all the trees...and all the colours, all around me...

Its overall structure is surprisingly sophisticated for something she wrote before she even hit her teens. For Collier this is merely a reflection of what she imbibed growing up; "My mum and dad played music all the time... Pink Floyd, loads of crazy different stuff. I think without noticing I was inspired by that."

Rachel’s first exposure to performing music was through the school choir. Then she started to teach herself the piano at 11. "Literally, I started with one hand. I was really chuffed when I discovered chords! Eventually I threw in a bassline with the left hand. Then when I was about 15 or 16 I thought, I need to get some piano lessons, start reading music so I could accompany myself."

Rachel later felt confident enough to explore the classical route and launched in at the deep end by taking her first piano exam at grade five level which she describes as, "the most nerve racking experience of my life." She’s since taught herself guitar but reckons she’s better at the ukulele (which she mastered whilst playing every night on a month-long trip to India last summer).

Around the same time Rachel started her classical piano training she discovered jazz vocals.
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U'mau shares Sound Journeys Of The Lost and Found | Interview

The image of the Bohemian musician is alive and well in London-born, internationally raised singer-songwriter U’mau Otuokon. This is no gimmick, mind you. The easy-going mannerisms, positive energy and Bo-ho raiment are all the artist’s own.

The daughter of a diplomat, U’mau’s slightly transatlantic inflections betray an intercontinental upbringing, one which saw her living in far flung destinations such as Russia, Cameroon, Spain and Canada. Along the way she picked up some Spanish and French as well as smatterings of her parents’ indigenous Ibibio and Efik tongues of South-Eastern Nigeria.

On U’mau’s debut album Sound Journeys of the Lost and Found you can hear influences from West Africa, Central and South America, the Middle-East, as well as more conventional western R&B rhythms. I imagine her nomadic childhood must have had a knock-on effect on her art; an insatiable restlessness maybe, to try new things...
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Sade Live @The_O2, London (May 31, 2011) | Gig Review

Tuesday 31 May marked the long awaited return to the London stage of the legendary Helen Folasade Adu and band, better known as Sade. Ms Adu is a veritable prodigal daughter in touring terms anyway, having last played these shores in 1993. Although she claims to enjoy performing, her nearly-20 year absence from the UK live scene indicates otherwise.

Arriving at the O2 this late spring evening, I am pleasantly surprised to see such a cross section of ages and backgrounds making up the Sade faithful; not unlike the sort of crowd that attended her musical male equivalent, Maxwell’s comeback gig in 2009. The band has been well noted for their ability to draw a diverse audience, one that mirrors the multicultural line-up of Sade itself. Yet I’m not entirely sure what to expect on the night.

Sade’s relationship with the UK- both media and listening audience-has been a complicated one. Following their initial breakthrough in the early-mid ‘80s Britain’s reaction to Sade appeared to gradually cool. With the exception of ‘By Your Side’ (peak chart position number 17) none of the singles from the bands last two albums have troubled the UK Top 40. And they were generally always underrated by a clueless rock-focused British music press.
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Little Baby Jesus by Arinze Kene | Theatre Review

The dream team of playwright/actor Arinze Kene and director Ché Walker are back at The Oval Theatre, South London with Little Baby Jesus.

First staged at the Oval as part of 2010’s 33% Season this coming-of-age tale with a twist is comprised of three separate but occasionally intertwining monologues by Kehinde (Fiston Barek), Joanne (Seroca Davis) and Rugrat (Akemnji Ndifornyen). The trio share animated anecdotes about the trials and tribulations that hurl them towards adulthood, ready or not.
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Mamas Gun - The Life and Soul | Album Review

Andy Platts and his consortium of A-grade, retro-lovin’ musicians, Mamas Gun, are back with The Life and Soul; their follow up to 2009’s light and breezy Routes To Riches.
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Hanson - "Give A Little" (?uestlove Remix) | Official Music Video

If there’s one song that’s sure not to be left off any definitive list of '90s hits, it’s Hanson’s ‘MmmBop.’ The three wholesome-looking Aryan brothers’ 1997 smash launched them into pop stardom and briefly earned them a place in millions of teeny-bopper hearts.

However if you reckon Isaac, Taylor and Zac have been languishing in 9-5 obscurity after the dizzying heights of their late-'90s success, think again. Having shifted over 15 million units since their breakthrough hit, the fellows clearly have a solid fanbase.
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[Verb]Swish - Teach-Err, Teach-Err: The Learnt Lessons | Album Review

On a blaze of good musical intentions and eye-catching artwork, wordsmith extraordinaire Richard ‘[Verb]Swish’ Smartt Jnr releases his debut full length album, Teach-Err, Teach-Err: The Learnt Lessons.
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Ladysmith Black Mambazo @BarbicanCentre, London (May 23) | Gig Review

51 years and counting since the group’s inception, the South African institution that is Ladysmith Black Mambazo waxes strong as ever. The still astonishingly spritely founder Joseph Shabalala realised his gift for songwriting through a recurring dream that haunted him for six months. More than five decades later and one million records sold in the UK alone, the world is glad he didn’t ignore his premonitions. He named the group after the South African township where they were formed, adding ‘Mambazo’ or ‘axe’ to denote the powerful impact of their vocals.

Joseph’s band first came to international prominence in the mid-1980’s via Graceland; [yet another] seminal album by Paul Simon. The diminutive New Yorker’s role in bringing the beauty of Ladysmith harmonies to the world’s attention has been met with scepticism by some. It’s as if there’s some cosmic law against cultural cross-pollination between the son of Ashkenazi Jewish émigrés and a Zulu vocal group.

Or perhaps there’s automatically a lot of suspicion when a Caucasian man takes an interest in music of darker skinned peoples. Yet Mr Simon had a long established reputation for musical wanderlust and there was nothing exploitative about his work with Mambazo. The collaboration yielded such classics as ‘Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes’ and ‘Homeless’ and hurtled LSBM into the ‘world’ music stratosphere.
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Misidentity @LostTheatre, London | Theatre Review

The Stasti Theatre company present their ever pertinent new production Misidentity at the Lost Theatre in Vauxhall, South London; a play seeking to challenge the pervasively negative perceptions of teenagers, in particular those from less than ideal social backgrounds. ‘Behind every stereotype’ reads the tagline ‘is a person. Behind every person, is a story’. True, some stereotypes have a shred of veracity but even then, as Misidentity sets out to remind us, life is far more complicated than mere stereotypes can reveal.

Using a mix of prose and poetry, this multi-layered piece follows the beautifully entangled, if not exactly rosy, story of a group of school kids; most of them from the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks, all of them friends, enemies or lovers. They are bookish, bolshie, sensitive, foulmouthed, boy-crazy, independent, mindless followers, freethinkers...
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Anna Omak: Non-conformist with Endless Possibilities | Interview

[Photo by Michele Roux]

As Anna Omak arrives at a central London location for our interview, I am struck by how positively statuesque she is. Tall and poised, today she favours the simple elegance of dark denim jeans and a black winter jacket whilst sporting a luscious shiny mane of carefully styled afro hair. Her clear, coffee bean complexion brings out her striking bone structure. No wonder British legend Sting was quite smitten by Anna during a chance encounter, claiming if he wasn’t already taken he would have married her.

But it would do a disservice to Anna to let you think she’s just another good-looking chick with vague musical aspirations. A self-taught guitarist, singer-songwriter and vocal coach, she’s the genuine article. Read more

37th State ft. Various Artists | Album Review

This double disc compilation is a truly international project featuring various artists working under the ‘37th State’ appellation. With the likes of Tony Allen, Dele Sosimi, Slum Village, Terri Walker and Keziah Jones on board, the listener travels sonically from Africa to the US stopping off frequently in the UK.

Judging from the colourful illustrations of an airport-based party depicted in the artwork, this intercontinental flavour was always the intention. It’s good to see acclaimed non-mainstream UK wordsmith’s such as Ty, Breis and Lyric L getting a look-in too. Read more

Matti Roots - BeatRoot | Album Review

Some artists seem to have been working the circuit so hard for so long, that by the time they get around to releasing their first album, much of the material is familiar enough to give it the feel of a Best of... collection. This is the case with Matti Roots and his quirkily-titled, labour-of-love debut BeatRoot.

Having previously recorded the whole album, Roots proceeded to do it again from scratch due to the original’s lack of homogeneity, according to the London-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. In that regards such a gamble paid off; BeatRoot’s flow is definitely consistent. Keeping it mellow, Matti’s laidback baritone/bass voice plays to its strengths; Roots doesn’t over-exert himself or distract from the album’s live and organic arrangements.

Much of BeatRoot is a kinky affair. Roots is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve whether the subject is obsession, heartbreak or horniness. He gets in touch with his inner Rogers-Nelson on synth-funk number ‘Lust’ and candidly chronicles an encounter with a young woman partial to S&M on the fabulously-produced, rock-influenced ‘Rough Love’. The lush, ethereal harmonies at the end of the track are almost at odds with the pain and hedonism that has gone before.

Sometimes however there is a little too much realness from Matti. On ‘What I’m Gonna Do’, possibly the album’s weakest song from a melodic perspective, Roots opines: ‘You’re so real, like a home-cooked meal... / I think I want to tuck in; so let’s get to f**kin’ ’.

Charming! Call me old fashioned but surely there are more endearing ways to a lady’s heart?

Nevertheless, with the exception of the well-intentioned but a tad trite ‘Don’t Worry’, Roots makes up for it with his introspective numbers. ‘Closure’, ‘I Miss You’ the bluesy, thoroughly likeable ‘Raw’ with its easy-does-it harmonies and the melodically compelling ‘Dope’ (a duet with songwriting legend Susaye Green) are all high points. The defiant, slightly melancholy tone of the horn section on ‘Closure’ reflects Roots’ saxophonist sensibilities, reminding us of what a well-rounded musician he is.

Although lyrically it tends to be a bit hit-and-miss, BeatRoot’s solid production, stick-in-the-cranium refrains, delectable BVs-not to mention eye-catching artwork- keep things highly appealing.

BeatRoot is out now through Otherway Records; purchase from iTunes or PLAY.