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REVIEW: MUSIC CITY SOUL

 

Monday, December 31, 2007.

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

Soul is universal—we all have some—it’s just that some of us have more soul, have more ways to express soul than Bush got bullets and bombs. (And you know that fool has been shooting and bombing since 9/11 and doesn’t look like he is about to slow down anytime soon.)

Soul music is an African-American invention and extension of the African root. Black music of the 1970s in particular is considered the measuring rod for Soul music. 
And over 40 years after Aretha went to Atlantic records and ushered in the golden age of Soul, we still have young Black women from all over the Diaspora reaching for Aretha’s crown.

Some of the most interesting Soul music is actually coming from Europe. Recent albums from the UK’s Beverley Knight and Germany’s Joy Denalane are perfect illustrations.
 
Beverly Knight went to
Nashville
, holed up for five days in Beech House Studios and dredged up two gut-buckets full of Southern Soul. The whole Music City Soul album sounds like Bev was born in Memphis, raised in Detroit and moved back south to Macon, Georgia, where she married a six-foot-six-inch farmer’s son who was named Otis.

 

It’s uncanny how much this sounds like real Southern Soul music, like something that Tina Turner’s grandchild would produce, or even Ann Peebles’ second cousin’s youngest child.

If all of the songs had been top drawer compositions, this would have been a classic album. Nevertheless, it’s a whisper short of greatness; it’s still very, very good.
 
I’m particularly appreciative of how Beverley Knight leans into the lyrics; singing, like this may be her last go round, like she has an upcoming date with the electric chair. There’s a going for broke feeling permeating each song.

Knight fondly recalls the recording session: “This was recorded utterly live as opposed to having live elements which made all the difference. I had musicians and background singers in the room with me at the same time and what we did in the studio is what you hear with no corrections or programmed beats. It was entirely different to how I had recorded before and because of that the sound of the record is very different to what you would have heard before.”
 
This is Beverly Knight’s fifth album in a decade-long career. This is also her most consistent outing in terms of flat-out singing with feeling.

 

Born Beverley Anne Smith, March 22, 1973, in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England, of Jamaican parents, Knight was indelibly influenced by Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke.

 

She is a true Soul singer from a British culture that’s rather thin on Soul singers even though every three or four years or so some fresh face is marketed as such. None of them stay the course, and in that regard, perhaps, what we are hearing from Beverley Knight is a maturing of British Soul music.

Beverly
’s Music City Soul is far, far removed from the fabled British reserve and, for that matter, far removed from fawning emulation or by-the-numbers imitation. Go to a Beverley Knight fansite and check out two videos of Beverly performing live versions of songs from Music City Soul.

I have Beverly’s other albums but for the first time I find myself interested not only in what she is doing now, but really, really interested in where she goes from here. If Music City Soul is any indication, Ms. Knight is heading in the right direction. Stay tuned.

 

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

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