Thursday 3 December 2015

2015 albums: honourable mentions

As 2015 draws rapidly to a close, the compilation of our top 5 albums of the year has been hotly contested with last-minute changes still being made.  While the final list is being prepared, and is due to be unveiled around ten days from now, here's a list of the albums that just narrowly missed out on a slot in the top 5 but are still so worthy of your time if you've yet to hear them...

‘All Hail The Mighty Sceptres’ by The Mighty Sceptres [Ubiquity Records]
The group, consisting of long-term musical collaborators – Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford – is a real dream come true for fans who have followed the duos previous musical excursions together and the album continues to build upon the incredible chemistry and quality of music we’ve now come to expect from them, be it through their individual efforts or together.
We’re treated to a refreshing blend of sweet soul music that, as they describe themselves, “showcase[es] their love of 50s and 60s rhythm ’n’ blues, doo-wop, jazz and soul”.
Helping The Mighty Sceptres realize their vision is Chris Pedley of UK funk and soul veterans, The Baker Brothers, on production, and even further assistance behind the boards is brought in courtesy of Benedic Lamdin (aka Nostalgia 77) who takes up the album’s mixing duties.  It’s an undeniable dream team of inspiring talent best showcased amongst tunes like ‘Nothing Seems to Work’, ‘Gentle Refrain’, ‘Land of Green Ginger’ and the album’s standout track, ‘Shy as a Butterfly’.
Click here to read our exclusive interview with The Mighty Sceptres from April 2015.

‘Muriel’ by Sean Khan [Far Out Recordings]
With a D’Angelo-esque late submission for the year (‘Black Messiah’ in December 2014), saxophonist Sean Khan just scrapes in an honourable mention to our list with his second solo album, ‘Muriel’ (named after his mother).  Khan’s credentials extend as far back as the ‘90s with soul/jazz band, SK Radicals and going on to being referenced as a catalyst for the broken beat genre.
‘Muriel’ though acts very much as Khan’s homage to jazz music as he pays tribute to the classic sound and its pioneers (including John Coltrane), while still sounding contemporary and incorporating strong Latin jazz influences throughout.
The album is backed by an exciting guest list of vocalists including Omar who features on ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’, Diana Martinez sets the album off to a perfect start with ‘Things to Say’, and Far Out Recordings label mate, Sabrina Malheiros, appears on ‘Sister Soul’ – singing in English no less(?).  Amongst many of the album’s standout tracks, the three movements to ‘What Has Jazz Become?’ really stand tall as an inspirational effort and worth the time of any jazz music fan.
The album features three bonus remixes at its close, courtesy of Henry Wu, Ben Hauke and the fantastic 4 Hero, but keep your eyes peeled for Nicola Conte’s remix of ‘There Is Something New’ which came out on an earlier EP and is sadly not to be found on this release.

‘Happiness in Every Style’ by Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators [Timmion Records]
Now here’s a group that are no strangers to our year-end round-ups: the Brooklyn-born vocalist, Nicole Willis, and her excellent Finnish accompaniment, The Soul Investigators, secured the Number 1 slot in 2013 for their sophomore album release, ‘Tortured Soul’, that came eight years after their debut.  Thankfully, the collective hasn’t made us wait anywhere near that long for their follow-up so it’s with great joy that we’re able to include ‘Happiness in Every Style’ on this list.
While the group’s debut album, ‘Keep Reachin Up’ (released in 2005) won fans over with its infectiously sing-along and anthemic numbers, ‘Tortured Soul’ saw them revise their game plan drastically with a project that was decidedly darker and at times blusier than its predecessor to remarkable effect.  ‘Happiness in Every Style’ seems to sit comfortably between both styles, drawing upon elements from each and as strong a release as this is, there’s nothing “anthemic” here like their previous efforts ‘Feeling Free’, ‘My Four Leaf Clover’, ‘Holdin On’, ‘You Got Me Moonwalking’ or ‘It’s All Because of You’.  Maybe that’s down to the unfortunate absence of producer Didier Selin – who helmed both previous projects as well as The Soul Investigators collaboration with Myron & E (‘Broadway’).
Still, there is lots to be excited about it here with standouts including ‘One in a Million’, ‘Where Are You Now’, ‘Angel’ and ‘Thief in the Night’, plus the bonus inclusion of the group’s previous single ‘Hot Sauce’.  Note this down as yet another feather in the cap for Timmion Records and the label’s marquis act!

‘Back in Time’ by Judith Hill [NPG Records]
Recorded over the course of less than three weeks, and produced by the Purple Majesty himself, the album was initially distributed via a free download through Hill’s WeTransfer account in March which remained active for a few days and has since been closed.  In October however, the album was issued to iTunes and Tidal although the hope is that an official CD release will follow shortly as well.
Judith Hill already boasts a mind-blowing résumé – which includes having sang backing vocals on albums by Dave Stewart, Elton John, Josh Groban and Evelyn “Champagne” King, amongst many others – but fast-forward a few years and Prince, after having heard of her desire to work with him, calls her up and the rest is, as they say, history.
In the midst of Prince’s own resurgence last year with ‘Art Official Age’ and ‘Plectrumelectrum’, continual touring with ThirdEyeGirl, the release of ‘HitNRun’ this year as well, it’s a continual testament to his prolific nature that this release can still generate its own excitement.  ‘Back in Time’ is good.  I mean, reeeaaaally good.  It’s Prince’s funkiest music for quite some time and is the type of funk usually reserved for his famed aftershows.  It’s soulful, it’s gritty, it’s horn-heavy… and songs like ‘Turn Up’, ‘Beautiful Life’, ‘Cure’ and ‘Jammin in the Bassment’ propel the album to being a clear standout of the year.  We eagerly await the ever-growing expansion of Judith Hill’s catalogue.

'Love Sex Passion' by Raheem DeVaughn [eOne]
Raheem DeVaughn, regardless of who he works with, can always boast that signature sound – his is an inimitable voice and when married with production that’s heavily inspired by old school aesthetics, it makes for a very unique and contemporary blend of R&B and soul.  That ‘unique blend’ is presented here over seventeen tracks that clocks in at 76 minutes, demonstrating that there’s clearly still an enthusiasm for his music and plenty for people to connect with here.
The long-running production chemistry with Kenny Dope isn’t on display this time round (note their previous gems ‘Hopeless Romantic’, ‘Guess Who Loves You More’ and ‘My Wife’) but former collaborator, Chucky Thompson, does show up on two tracks for production as well as awesome funk & soul trombonist, Trombone Shorty, who earns himself a guest spot on ‘Pretty Lady’.  The album marks a notably more mature sound which some of his previous songs probably weren’t aiming to capture, like ‘B.o.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend)’ and ‘Microphone’ – ah yes, ‘Microphone’, the song that compares a stage to his body, and the microphone to his… well, let’s just say I’m way too prudish to finish that line off.
Highlights this time round include the aforementioned ‘Pretty Lady’, ‘Miss Your Sex’ and ‘Nothing Without You’ but the album really boasts few duds.  ‘Love Sex Passion’ is a strong contribution to 2015 and the album also works as a good introduction to Raheem DeVaughn for anyone who isn’t too familiar with past songs or releases.  If you do fall into the latter category, this could be the album to change that.

‘Beauty in Quiet Places’ by QCBA [Ubuntu Music]
‘Beauty in Quiet Places’ marks the second album from Quentin Collins and Brandon Allen’s passion project, QCBA, released this year through Ubuntu Music.
Headed up by “the hardest hitting trumpet/sax frontline in the business”, trumpeter, Quentin Collins, and saxophonist, Brandon Allen, round out their quartet with friends and long-term collaborators Ross Stanley on Hammond organ and Enzo Zirilli on drums.  The quartet boastfully showcase their unique blend of soulful jazz, with elegant tinges of Brazilian stylings, all respectfully nodding to the Greats, while still injecting enough of their own talents and charisma throughout to make an end-product that is quintessentially QCBA.
The recording of the album seems to serve as a testament to the style and energy fans can expect from the band's live shows, which would be quite the journey: from the Samba-esque 'Fuerteventura', the exquisite ballad of 'Oscar's Lullaby' or the up-tempo swing of 'Modal Tranesition', which pays homage to iconic saxophonists, Joe Henderson and John Coltrane.
Click here to read our exclusive interview with Quentin Collins from September 2015.

‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets.’ by Van Hunt [Godless Hotspot]
‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets’ marks the fourth official studio album release from singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Van Hunt, and sees him return with potentially his funk-iest set yet.
While ‘The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets’ does see him return to somewhat familiar territory, this isn’t an album that anyone could describe as being easily digestible and there is probably nothing here that is going to be a crossover sensation like the incredible ‘Dust’ was in 2004.  The album is filled with Van Hunt’s inimitable funk stylings, evident on songs like ‘Puddin’ and ‘Pedestal’, along with orchestral-enriched ballads like ‘If I Wanna Dance With You’, which make for a very enjoyable listen.
There’s high hopes for Van Hunt and Godless Hotspot and we look forward to the next stage in Van Hunt’s musical journey.

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